As the festive season approaches, families eagerly anticipate joyful celebrations, but for many parents of little ones, it also brings about a unique set of challenges. Holiday sleep struggles can disrupt routines and create stress. How can we navigate these issues and offer support to parents during these festivities? Dr Lyndsey Hookway delves into some essential tips for managing these holiday sleep struggles and supporting sleep clients effectively in such times.
Holiday Sleep Struggles: Navigating Challenges with Babies
Holiday Sleep Struggle # 1: Supporting Sleep Clients in Holidays Amidst Unsolicited Advice
The first holiday sleep struggle is that at this time of year, we tend to see more people. More people equals more unwanted opinions and unsolicited advice. This can be overwhelming and bewildering for families, and lead to confusion and a pick-and-mix approach to sleep – where parents hear snippets of multiple pieces of advice and try lots of things all at once.
It can be lovely to see old friends and family members you rarely have contact with. Parties and get-togethers are a really special time to see loved ones. A new baby is a magnet for attention as well. This is understandable – children make Christmas magical and many people want to catch up with the members of their family who have tiny new little ones. This is especially true for people whose children are grown. There’s a nostalgia in being around young families that reminds people of the joy of those early years.
But let’s be honest – where you get a mix of people, you also get a mix of opinions and parenting styles which can be hard to manage. Great Aunty Margaret swears by some random nap schedule that worked for her. The mother-in-law weighs in with a tip about starting solids prematurely. Someone else chips in with a recommendation for an expensive night light that apparently solved all her sleep dramas 15 years ago.
But the thing is, not only does nobody else know a child like their parents, but many people misremember the early days anyway. Odd bits and pieces stick in their memory and these out of context ideas may be completely irrelevant. Advice and recommendations may have moved on. Nobody knows the setup, situation, or sleep challenges like the parent does. So they are probably not qualified to give advice.
So how to overcome this one: well, two suggestions: firstly, don’t suggest your client starts anything new over Christmas – wait until the dust settles and then review the situation. Second, while we can’t do anything about people wanting to give advice and tips that may be largely unhelpful, you can encourage them to develop the skill of the smile and nod…. And then ignore!
Holiday Sleep Struggle # 2: Navigating Judgmental Comments While Supporting Sleep Clients
The second holiday sleep struggle is the tendency to feel judged. I still clearly remember reluctantly going to a party where my 8-week-old daughter was the only child present and she was the centre of attention… as well as comments that were judgey and unhelpful. “Is she sleeping through yet”, “Is she in a routine”, “Is she good”, “When will you have another one”…. These questions subtly imply that if the answer is ‘no’ that either the parent, their baby, or their parenting are in some way deficient or faulty. And then the more hurtful ones – such as comments like “Ooh, you’ve made a rod for your back there” when I let slip that she wasn’t on a schedule, or was in our bed, or whatever.
I genuinely don’t think people mean to be unhelpful. They would probably be horrified if they had realized how hurtful these judgemental comments were. Perhaps they want to be helpful? Maybe they want to show how much they know about raising babies and appear superior? Or it could be that they feel nostalgic and seeing a baby or young child has reminded them of a poignant memory. They might just not know what to say and are trying to latch on to a mutually relatable topic of conversation.
Apart from reminding clients to go into these situations with eyes wide open and putting on a tough outer skin in advance, I have a couple of ideas for managing this situation.
First – you could recommend developing a stock answer to the ‘are they in a routine’ kind of question that shuts it down immediately. Such as ‘We’re doing really well. We’re still figuring it out and learning about him or her, and we have some great sources of support. How are YOU doing?’ People love to talk about themselves, so getting the topic back to them is always a good idea.
The second suggestion I have is to act like they would be doing the parent a favour to talk about something else – try something like ‘Oh gosh, you know, you’re so kind to ask or suggest that… but you know what… I’ve done nothing but talk about babies for ages. Remind me what else is going on in the world! What books have you read recently? What’s the latest gossip I’ve missed?’ This should give them plenty of material that you can run with and steer the conversation onto something less controversial.
Holiday Sleep Struggle # 3: Understanding How Holidays Impact Babies and Supporting Clients
The third of these holiday sleep struggles is that when families are traveling, or they have visitors over, lots of decorations, lights, music, a change in your usual routine, or different environments, it can be a lot for little ones to cope with. On top of this, lots of people want to hold the baby.
All of this can lead to a wired and tired, overstimulated, and dysregulated little person. Little ones settle best with their familiar caregivers. While it might be really meaningful and important for their 98-year-old great-grandmother to have a cuddle with the baby, it’s important to remember that for babies, being passed around multiple people with different voices, smells, and styles of holding can be stressful.
I’m not suggesting parents hold tight to their little ones and never let anyone else hold them… but equally, be wary of playing pass the baby. So my first tip is to empower parents to put their foot down and say ‘they’re a bit rattled actually, do you mind if I go into a quiet room and try to calm them down’. If people want to help, there are lots of ways they can do that – holding a baby is possibly the least useful. My second tip is to try to arrange it so that visitors come to the new family. If they don’t have space to host, this is doubly genius as they won’t be able to stay long. If this is really impossible, could they meet at a neutral location where they can be in control of when they leave? Or failing all of that, could you suggest that they develop a secret code word with their partner or another ally who can advocate for them or make a cunning excuse.
“Their baby is likely behaving like a baby”
Holiday Sleep Struggle # 4: Supporting Sleep Clients Amidst Disrupted Routines
The fourth sleep struggle is that during these times of visitors or changed up routines, the usual pace and rhythm of the day can go to pieces. It’s no secret that I’m not a fan of strict schedules, so I don’t mean that necessarily. But our activities are different. We might go to different places or stay out in the evening. This can work really well for some families. Some little ones are pretty flexible and enjoy the additional sensory input and mental stimulation. Some babies can adapt their sleeping pattern and this kind of disruption to their usual status quo doesn’t bother them. If that’s true for your client’s baby, then great. But if we’re talking about a more sensitive little soul, this upheaval can make them feel really rattled.
If this is the case, don’t be afraid to suggest being flexible where they can, and where experience has taught them that they can get away with it, but they should hold their boundary where they need to. So, if their baby will fall apart without their usual bedtime sequence, then suggest they make this non-negotiable. And don’t forget, if the worst happens and they’re a bit cranky for a few days, all is not lost – you and your client can get back to normal soon!
Holiday Sleep Struggle # 5: Managing Public Expectations and Baby Sleep
And finally, the fifth sleep struggle is that all of these stressors can add up to parents feeling like they’re on show, and that their baby needs to perform in some way. This can play out as explaining why the baby is cranky to Uncle Roger ‘oh, he’s not normally like this but he’s getting a cold’. Or excusing their babyness to some random person ‘she’s not quite herself today….’. The truth is – parents and babies are not on display. Their baby is likely behaving like a baby and doesn’t need to have their behaviour blamed on colic, bugs, teeth or a bad day. But this doesn’t stop parents wanting everyone to see their baby the way they see them. This is totally normal. But it can make them feel like a bit of a failure and elevate stress levels. It can also rob them of the joy of their first Christmas with their little one.
So, there are the 5 biggest holiday sleep struggles that I see over Christmas and some practical steps you can suggest to support your clients.
If you’re a fan of relatable, practical and sustainable sleep support that is responsive and evidence-based, then you can book a call with a real human on our team – to find out more about our holistic sleep coaching program.