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Changing Time Zones With A Toddler

Traveling in pajamas as we head back into Pacific time!

With our family and friends so far away, we end up traveling pretty often. I’d guess that every other month or so we have a trip planned to visit someone, or we have visitors headed to come see us. I’m not a nervous traveler, and I actually find it to be kind of fun. But traveling with a baby or a toddler is a whole different ballgame. I can handle the airport, the tiny airplane seat, and dealing with being in a new space. But the hardest thing to deal with is the time change.

Since we are out in Seattle, we’re on Pacific time, but we never seem to travel within our own time zone. All our friends and family live on Eastern time, which means a leap of three hours each time we visit.  Having been through this many, many times now, I’ve figured out the best way to make it work.

My tip? Throw yourself (and your child) onto the new time zone immediately. When we first started traveling, I’d follow Cullen’s cues and watch to see how he adapted, and it would take almost the whole trip for him to adjust. By the time he was on Eastern time, we were ready to head home. Now of course I’m not suggesting you should make your child miserable, but it’s okay to gently nudge toward an ideal nap or bedtime.

The easiest way to start is first thing in the morning. We arrived in Indiana late – after 11pm, and Cullen didn’t end up in bed until midnight. This meant 9pm Pacific time, which is still really late for him.  But I knew that despite the late bedtime, he’d be up as soon as the sun came up. And sure enough, he popped up around 8am as usual (which felt like 5am to me!). I dragged myself out of bed, and set out determined to be on Eastern time from there on out. When 1pm rolled around, he was ready for his nap since he’d been up so early. And if he seemed like he was getting cranky or tired at other times, I just switched things up, offered a snack, or gave him a little down time with a book. By day two, he was back on schedule like clockwork.

Now we’re back in Seattle, and it’s a little harder adjusting to western travel. He wants to wake at 5am, since that’s 8am on the East coast. But I just put a few books in his crib, rub his back, and leave him in his crib. He plays for a bit, and eventually rolls back over and drifts back to sleep. We’ve been back for two days now, and we’re almost totally back on track after one off-day.

I believe pretty strongly in listening to your child’s cues, and watching for signs and signals to know what they need. But I think this is one instance where they can use a little extra coaxing and direction. Changing time zones is hard for all of us!  The good news? We all usually get a few extra naps for a few days.

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