When your family goes on vacation, all of the rhythm and predictability of home is replaced by adventure, new places, and lots of togetherness. All of the things that make family trips fun are also the same things that can easily get very young children off track.
Our family went on vacation last year for a week with my husband’s family. It was a full day of travel for us to get there and when we arrived it was bedtime. Our four-year-old son was so exhausted he fell asleep fairly easily in his own bed in the room across the hall from us. We left the doors open and in the morning he crawled into our bed until we were ready to get up.
The following day, he played with his older cousins all day long and when it was time for bed, he announced that he wanted to sleep in the boy’s room with his cousins. There were three twin beds for the three boys so we agreed, and bedtime went pretty well. He was excited to be sleeping in the “big boy’s room” and fell asleep fairly easily at his bedtime.
The next night wasn’t so easy. He was pretty off kilter from all of the play with the older boys and had way more screen time than usual, so I was expecting some off track behavior to surface eventually.
When it was time for bed he rebelled. He wanted to stay up late like the other boys and refused to be put to bed. Putting on pajamas was like dressing an octopus. Brushing teeth required contortions. When we finally got to the bed he was in escape mode. He kept wriggling free and running for the door. He was laughing but it wasn’t a gleeful laugh, it was maniacal. He was overtired and overstimulated.
I totally understood how he felt, but knew that what he needed most was to be in his bed asleep. I knew it was time to set a firm but loving limit. I eased him back to his bed saying, “It’s bedtime. We can play more tomorrow.” I sat on the bed next to him and gently held his hands. When he tried to escape this time, my body was in the way and I looked into his eyes and said as lovingly as I could, “It is bedtime. We can play more tomorrow.” This is all he needed to burst into tears. He could sense my commitment to the limit and finding my firmness and kindness allowed all of the big feelings to come bubbling to the surface. He cried and cried. I knew he was unloading the stress of being away from home and having so many new experiences, most of them fun, but overwhelming to a young and sensitive child. I just stayed near and listened.
After a few minutes his crying lessened. He asked for a tissue. He started to come back to himself and he looked me in the eye. I asked if I could lie with him while he got sleepy in his bed and he welcomed me. We talked a little bit about the fun things we could do the next day, and soon he was asleep.
The following night when it was time for bed he had a little bit of resistance, but it melted away quickly and by the next night he was practically looking forward to bed.
When a child displays off track and unreasonable behavior, they are often asking for us to bring a limit to help them stop. My son was way over his normal stimulation limit on our vacation, and for the most part handled the trip really well, but the quietness and closeness of bedtime really brought his stress to the surface. Bringing a limit to off track behavior can provide the emotional release children need and return them to their balanced, fun loving selves.
From the Hand in Hand Toolbox
- Read more Setting Healthy Limits
- Hear how other parents are using this approach in How Setting Limits on TV Led to Play and Setting Limits without Blame or Shame
- Get more help setting limits on behavior with this online video class, Setting Limits and Building Cooperation
Heidi Grainger Russell is Certified Instructor with Hand in Hand Parenting, and lives in Petaluma, CA, where she offers ongoing parenting support.