how to deal with routine disruptions

Christmas may be the season of comfort and joy, but if you’re the parents of young children? It can feel like anything but. Because when you factor in all the excitement, excess sugar, new surroundings, and stimuli, it becomes clear that the only thing Christmas is giving your kids right now is sensory overload.

If, like many parents, you’ve worked hard to put sleep schedules in place and get little ones eating a balanced diet, the thought of all time and effort being jeopardised by the festive season can be daunting. But it doesn’t have to be the disaster you’re currently anticipating.

We spoke to Charlotte Stirling-Reed (srnutrition.co.uk), author and registered nutritionist specialising in baby and child nutrition, and Emma Roberts, qualified infant sleep consultant and founder of dear-mama.co.uk, to get some expert advice on how best to handle all the changes Christmas brings. Spoiler alert – it’s not going to be as bad as you think…

Get little ones involved

The first thing to do when it comes to addressing that Christmas carnage? Get little ones involved in the prep, says nutritionist Charlotte Stirling-Reed. ‘Get them involved in the food (and not just in making the sweet stuff),’ she says.

‘Try to get them to help you with the food shop, peeling veg or even make some activities out of some leftovers, such as potato stamps or painting with carrot tops. This can help them get excited about foods other than just the sweets and cakes.’

If your toddler is old enough to understand, explaining the changes that may happen over the festive period can also be helpful, says sleep expert Emma Roberts. ‘You can get creative, drawing pictures and making up stories to help them adjust. Show them pictures of where you will be staying can also help.’

Don’t assume the worst

Remember, changes in location and timings won’t necessarily disrupt your little one’s routine, says Emma. ‘Some babies aren’t bothered by disruption, whereas some are very sensitive to change,’ she says. ‘We’re all different, babies included. So try not to get overly anxious about switching up your routine over the festive period – it might not be the disaster you’re anticipating.’

However, if you’re feeling anxious about your child’s routine, don’t be afraid to seek support. It’s normal to feel some concern over disrupting routines that have taken a lot of time and effort to put in place, but if this anxiety begins to feel overwhelming, speak to your GP.

Understand the menu will inevitably change

‘Children are likely to be understandably distracted over the Christmas period, which can mean that they are less interested in the meals and foods you have to offer (especially when there is a lot of foods such as chocolates, cakes and biscuits dotted around too),’ says Charlotte. ‘Being out of routine can also impact food intake at mealtimes.’

However, this is both normal and to be expected, she adds, so remind yourself that it’s just for a few days out of the whole year. Instead, Charlotte recommends focussing on being a role model with your eating habits. ‘Try to follow a “do as I do” approach so that they pick up on your cues around what and how much you eat.

Keep grazing under control…

‘It’s OK if some meals go uneaten and children consume more in the way of sweets and sugar for a few days during the holiday season,’ says Charlotte. ‘However, some things can help to keep their energy levels up and help them to enjoy some mealtimes with you.’

‘Avoid having foods out all day to “graze” on,’ recommends Charlotte. ‘This can stop little ones from realising when they are full, and is likely to result in not very much being eaten at mealtimes.’

But don’t restrict treats…

‘Avoid overly restricting sweet foods when they are available,’ advises Charlotte, ‘as this will only make them more desirable to little ones. Instead, try to limit them subtly, for example by only offering them at certain times, not leaving them out as a “free for all”, offering them along with a snack and storing them somewhere that isn’t obvious and accessible.’

It’s also important to make plenty of foods available, not just the sweet treats, she says – think pots of veggie sticks, breadsticks, nuts and raisins for older children. ‘You could try making snowball energy balls and Christmas-themed smoothies to try to bring some excitement to all foods, not just the sweets and biscuits on offer.’

Fake familiarity

Although schedules might change and the location might be different, keeping things as close as possible to your regular routine can help little ones adjust. ‘Children tend to like what they are used to, so keeping some consistency in their day might help them to be a little more willing to accept the foods you provide,’ says Charlotte.

When it comes to bedtime, this starts with making your baby’s surroundings as soothing as possible. ‘If you’re going away for the festive period take things with you that your baby finds comforting – think a white noise machine, comforter, toys and books,’ says Emma. ‘You can also buy stick-on black-out blinds that you can take with you to make bedrooms as comfortingly dark as possible.’

Meanwhile, think about the best sleeping set-up for your little one. ‘For many babies, proximity to mum will be comforting, so erecting a travel cot in your own room to keep them close during the night can be soothing,’ says Emma.

However, the most important thing is to try and stick to the usual script when it comes to bedtime, from timings to wind-down routine. ‘Try to keep bedtime as consistent as possible without letting it ruin your celebrations,’ says Emma. ‘Your little one’s routine may well be disrupted over this period, but that’s okay.’

Keep things in perspective

‘Try not to overanalyse or overthink it,’ says Charlotte. ‘Kids nutrition isn’t about what happens over one day, it’s about what is going on with their diet the majority of the time. Besides, little ones are actually pretty good at self-regulating if we give them the chance. So resist overly-restricting certain foods or overly pressuring them to eat others (however hard that may be). You’ll all be happier for it.’

Get things back on track gradually

‘Once the disruption is over, you can start putting a normal routine back into place,’ says Emma. ‘Putting them down for naps at their ‘normal time’, putting them to bed at their ‘normal’ time. If a baby has been going to bed late over the festive period, bring bedtime forward by 15 mins each night until you’re back to normal.’

And if things do take longer than you’d like to get back to normal? Keep the faith – things will get back on track eventually, and your kids will have a bank of brilliant core Christmas memories in exchange for all your hard work.