Dealing With Jet Lag For a Toddler

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It’s been awhile since we’ve traveled with a toddler. But as we travel, we often talk with other parents, especially new parents who want to travel more. One of the questions that always comes up is how to deal with jet lag for a toddler.

As adults, we deal with jet lag in a variety of ways, from sleep deprivation to self-medication. But for toddlers, it’s a completely different issue.

How do you help a toddler, who still has yet to understand the concept of time, adjust his or her own sleep schedule? How do we avoid sleepless nights and cranky kids during the day? Is there a secret remedy for dealing with jet lag for a toddler? The answer to all of these is, it all depends.

This post was recently updated on November 28, 2019.

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A young toddler sleeping in a stroller at an airport, trying to deal with jet lag for a toddler.
My daughter taking a nap at the airport (August 2012)

Dealing with jet lag for a toddler

During our first Asia family trip, our daughter was only a year and a half old. It took her a good three nights to adjust to the time zone. Our first night was painful. We arrived in Bangkok around midnight, and were able to go to sleep relatively easily. But around 4 am, my daughter woke up and would not go back to sleep.

The same thing happened the next night, as well as the night after that. By this time, we were staying in Hotel Galilee in Bustos, Philippines. My husband and stepson had both adjusted to the time zone, and were sleeping soundly in their beds. Meanwhile, my daughter and I were both wide awake at 4 am, bored with iPad watching and tired of being in a stuffy hotel room.

It took several days before my daughter fully adjusted to the time difference. Since it was our first time traveling overseas with a toddler, we were ill-prepared mentally for dealing with jet lag for a toddler.

Flags in the Philippines, where families can adjust to jet lag for a toddler
Flags in the Philippines (July 2012)

Preparing for jet lag

Parenting experts have a variety of contradicting advice regarding jet lag for a toddler. For families preparing their kids for an overseas trip, it can seem confusing or overwhelming.

Some experts recommend only picking flights that arrive in the evening so that you’re tired and ready for bed. Others recommend picking flights that arrive in the morning so that your body has a chance to naturally adjust to the sun schedule. And yet others recommend starting before your flight, adjusting your kids’ sleep schedule to your destination’s time zone days, or weeks, before your trip.

Riding a motorcycle at the Taiwan airport (September 2015)

Adjusting your mindset to deal with jet lag for a toddler

From my experience, how you deal with jet lag really just depends on your kid and the situation. There’s no fool proof solution to help young kids combat jet lag. It’s all about adjusting your mindset.

Traveling in Singapore with young kids (January 2020)

Stay flexible

The key to parenting while traveling is flexibility. You need to be flexible enough, in your travel itinerary, schedule, and frame of mind, to be able to accommodate for some nights of lack of sleep. Because undoubtedly, this is going to happen, no matter what method or remedy you try.

Walking together at the monkey forest in Ubud (July 2012)

Show your kids some patience

Considering how stressful jet lag can be for adults, it can be a particularly stressful experience for your toddlers. When you visit a new destination, show your kids some patience. Allow them time to adjust to the new time zone on their own.

Mother and daughter traveling in Singapore, adjusting to jet lag for a toddler
Looking out onto Singapore (July 2012)

Bring along your kid’s favorite stuffy

Sometimes having your kids’ favorite stuffed animal or toy can help soothe them in new environments. Bring along a special toy so that your kids will have something familiar when they’re up in the middle of the night. Our son travels with a plush dinosaur, which helps him feel calm and comforted.

Toddler sleeping during a trip

Accept that this won’t be the case forever

The main bit of advice we have for parents of toddlers is that this phase of life won’t last forever. Eventually your kids will get older, and they will be able to cope with difficult situations on their own. So when trying to deal with jet lag for a toddler, keep in mind that this is temporary.

My son at an airport (July 2014)

Focusing your energy on other aspects of travel

The good news is, your kids will eventually adjust to the time zone. Their bodies have their own ways of battling jet lag.

So rather than stressing on whether your kids will adjust to the time zone or not, use that energy to focus on other parts of your travel planning. In the end, everyone, no matter what age, figures out their own way of battling jet lag. The best thing you can do right now is to help your kids enjoy the ride.

Have you had to deal with jet lag for a toddler? Share your experience in the comments.

Dealing With Jet Lag For A Toddler | The Wandering Daughter

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Hi, I'm Astrid

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I'm a travel-loving mom of three from Seattle. Join our adventures as we explore the Pacific Northwest and the world!



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