Kids and Jet Lag

CONTRIBUTED BY HEATHER GELORMINE

Unless you’ve spent your entire life in a region where there’s no such thing as Daylight Savings Time, you know that adapting to a time change quickly and effectively can play a major role in how well you begin adjusting to a new duty station, or even just while on vacation.  As adults this is a challenge, but because we intellectually understand that we need to make an adjustment it’s do-able.

Photo courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net
For babies and children, however, this can be a daunting feat.  I know from experience how hard it was to adjust my somewhat-scheduled kids’ bedtime back or forward by just an hour; that we’re soon facing a THIRTEEN HOUR time switch is almost unfathomable.  And we’re not alone.

Two years ago a reader asked for advice on preparing her three-month-old for just this type of situation.  As you often do, our wonderful Okinawa Hai readers came ready with tips and information on how to deal.  Now that it’s PCS season AND summer break, many of you might be wondering the same thing: What Do I Do?

The following tips have been compiled from our reader comments (which you can read in full by heading back to that post):

  • Begin making adjustments BEFORE you make the trip.  Start letting your kids stay up later and later each night – and sleeping in later in the mornings – so that the acclimation is slightly less once you’ve arrived at your destination.
  • If you have a routine for naps and/or bedtime, don’t change them; stay consistent with the process (brush teeth, pajamas, bedtime story, cuddles, etc) but at the appropriate time for your new locale. Although you may be inclined to let your overtired toddler take a six-hour nap – from noon to 6pm – if this isn’t his normal cycle it will hurt, rather than help, with the adjustment process.  If your kids can’t sleep past 3pm without then being awake until 10pm, get them up at the normal time.
  • Eat at regular meal times according to where you are on the globe, even if that means making and eating a peanut butter and jelly sandwich at what feels like 2330. (But keep feeding your infant on demand!)  Don’t forget to have water on hand constantly to help combat any dehydration that may have occurred during your travels.
  • The first couple days are the hardest, particularly when traveling west to east (from Okinawa to the states).  Don’t make any big plans for the first three to five days, if you can help it, and try to keep things low-key for a couple weeks.  If you can, give your kids – and yourself – a chance to adjust and get settled into the time change before hitting the amusement parks and visiting every family member within a five-state radius (though one reader offered the exact opposite solution: keep them so busy initially they can’t help but pass out at the end of the day.  Use these suggestions based on how well your child reacts to change and lack of sleep.).
  • Traveling across time zones with infants can actually be easier than with toddlers and older children. (Though I wouldn’t recommend stopping time during their childhood for that reason alone – keeping them immobile and unable to wear you out through incessant question-asking both rank higher on my list for that impossible feat.)  Here are some travel tips with kids that have been offered up before.
  • During the day, expose them to the sunshine and plan outside activities if possible.  At night, darken rooms as much as possible and keep activity levels low (and other household occupants quiet, if possible).  Let your environment help make the switch a more natural progression.

Now it’s your turn once again, readers.  Do you have any other suggestions or ideas that have worked for you in these situations?  How have you helped your kids adjust to extreme time changes without losing your mind?

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