Mom Chronicles: Hints from the road

Camping with Kids: A Mom's Guide to a Successful Night's Sleep

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After a full day of outdoor recreation, backroad driving, and the warmth of a crackling campfire, the quiet of night in remote destinations is enchanting. Add a little glass of wine and a good dinner it'll rival an afternoon at the spa.

But add kids, the whole experience becomes intimidating.

Putting little ones to bed in a tent - and helping them sleep through the night - can be one of the trickiest parts of camping with babies, infants and toddlers. I remember feeling on edge during Chloe's first few camping trips. She would finally be in her deepest sleep, and I'd be laying awake wondering, "Are her hands cold? Did Mark roll over and squish her? OMG, did she eat enough?" Sound familiar?

Pack plenty of children's books and stuffed animals, especially with younger kids who are attached to their favorites. For babies, use a pacifier or give a bottle right before bed if you normally do.

Press on, weary moms: it doesn't have to be stressful, scary, or intimidating.

As with so much in the parenting game, it gets easier the more often you go out and do it. Soon enough your little hollaring mongrel will grow into a cute tyke asking, "Can I go to bed now, please?" and she'll tuck herself in; you'll have the freedom to enjoy an extra hour at the campfire with no cries to echo for miles around.

1. Timing

The first tip toward an easier bedtime in the tent is put your child in bed before he is over-tired.

This is especially true for toddlers and pre-schooler age kids. Waiting too late in the hopes that he will "wear himself out" and drop off easily to sleep in a new environment is sure to backfire. We try to keep naptimes and bedtimes on a camping trip consistent with our schedule at home. Often that means naps are "on the go" in a carseat or jogger, but even a 30-minute nap (opposed to her typical 3-hour one) seems to help Chloe make it through the bedtime transition easier that night.

Tired, grouchy kids have a more difficult time agreeing to bedtime, plus they're just a pain in the butt, so avoid the conflict by starting early.

2. Ambiance, Comfort, and Familiarity

Another strategy for getting children to sleep more easily is to make the tent ambiance and bedtime routine familiar.

If your child sleeps with a nightlight or white noise, find a portable appliance to bring along that provides those similar comforts. Going camping doesn't inherently mean going without things we find comfortable. Heck, we don't even sleep in a ground tent anymore (it's on the roof, actually). We're all about comfort because it means more fun and less stress for everyone.

Pack plenty of books and stuffed animals, especially with younger kids who are attached to their favorites. For babies, use a pacifier or give a bottle right before bed if you normally do. Spend time playing in the tent with the kids (reading books or playing mellow games) to help establish it as a happy, comfortable place that we all enjoy.

3. Pajamas and Layering for Cold Nights

Dress your children for bed in warm pajamas, but don't over-layer. Most parents worry about the cold more than they should. Myself included! The littlest babies should dress one layer warmer than you, and sleep in a hat (if possible) to keep insulated. For children 12 months and older, the most important thing is to make sure sleeping clothes are thick. Squirmy sleepers have a harder time staying in sleeping bags or tucked under blankets, so add socks to keep them snug.

Side note: I am surprised at how infrequently Chloe complains about the cold. It makes sense, evolutionarily, that babies aren't conditioned to want room temperature climate-controlled environments. For most centuries of human history babies had to put up with nomadic or traveling parents, where sleeping in tents (or caves) was the norm. Aren't we glad we don't still have to bundle our little ones with animal skins? Thank goodness for the innovation of fleece footy-pajamas.

4. When Morning Comes, We All Need Something Special

As an honorable mention for best nighttime advice, I want to include preparing the next morning's essentials ahead of time. There is nothing harder than getting out of the tent at dawn for a new diaper or a cup of milk. Plan ahead and bring into the tent any of those neccessities that might be needed at night/morning for your child. Or for yourself! Sometimes we even prepare our espresso maker outside on the camp stove so all we have to do in the morning is walk outside and turn on the propane. There's nothing better than a warm caffeinated drink first thing in the morning, especially if we didn't sleep well or at all. Even in that worst case, though, just remember you're in good company with millions of other parents, sipping coffee and thinking to themselves, "this too shall pass..." And armed with these new sleep strategies, hopefully next time you can have sweeter dreams all night. Sleep tight!

Comments   

 
Rainy Lake fishing
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# Rainy Lake fishing 2012-06-07 23:53
Wherever you go, you have to be well prepared, especially if you are hauling kids with you. Making sure they are comfortable, relaxed, and excited for an adventure will make sure they will not spend every waking minute bothering you.
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