1. Let everyone sleep when they want to
I know that the traditional advice for getting over jet lag is to force yourself to stay awake during the day, but I don’t think that’s realistic when you are also meant to be looking after Littles. As far as I’m concerned, the same principle as that of the newborn days applies: sleep when they sleep. Because for the first 2 to 3 days, you never know when they’ll be wide awake and want entertaining. The kids are also likely to be very, very tired from the excitement of the journey, so it makes no sense to keep them awake when their bodies and brains desperately need rest.
Often, neither adults nor children get enough sleep and food during long-distance travel, so it’s normal for everyone to be starving for the first day after arrival. This makes it much easier to adapt to the destination time zone’s mealtimes than bedtimes. In fact, some studies have shown that not eating at all during travel, and then eating the correct meal immediately upon arrival (so, for example, eating lunch if you arrive at/around lunch time) is much more effective in resetting your body clock than trying to tinker with sleep patterns. Although getting your children to abstain from food for the duration of a journey probably isn’t a good idea (can you imagine the toddler wrath of a missed snack!?), I do think it’s possible to use their extra hunger-levels to your advantage.
3. Don’t. Make. Plans.
For the first three days, you are going to feel awful. You are going to want to sleep during the day and be wide a-bloody-wake at 3AM. So why would you make any plans?? Instead, just take it easy for at least 48 hours and accept that everyone and everything else can wait. No-one (but you, possibly) will care if the suitcases are not unpacked, or if the floor isn’t clean. If there are people at your destination waiting (clamouring) to see you, ask them to come to you rather than you go to see them. And while you’re at it, explain you are dead on your feet and might just need to pop to bed for an hour, lovely as it is to catch up… They’ll understand.
If you have to go back to work immediately (ouch), try to avoid scheduling meetings or deadlines for the first few days, and have a to-do list ready before you leave so you don’t have to think too much when you get back.
4. Get help
If you can, get someone to take the children off your hands for at least a few hours on the first day, or make you dinner, or do the shopping for you. If this isn’t an option, try to plan ahead before you leave to make your life on arrival as simple as possible. Freeze some dinners or find out in advance where you are going to get your first few meals from, and have clean outfits for two days ready. Don’t return to a pile of dishes in the sink and no milk in the fridge at midnight…
5. Get out
One of the worst things about travelling by plane is being cooped up in a small space for hours. Add the over-enthusiastic and utterly unhealthy air conditioning, and you arrive feeling not only disoriented but also decidedly stale. The great outdoors is the perfect antidote so even if the temptation is to crawl onto the sofa, get out there. No matter what the weather. In fact, the windier the better, to blow out all the aches, pains and cobwebs. And if it’s the middle of the night and everyone is awake anyway? (Provided you know you’ll be safe) just head out for a torch-lit walk - the kids will love it. Then come back and feel naturally tired, rather than “I’ve just sat in a metal box for 10 hours and am going a little loopy” kind of tired.
6. Be patient
No matter how bad, jet lag usually begins to wear off after three days. So hang in there and make the most of the fact that everyone, even the normally-hyperactive toddler is a bit dopey, a bit snoozy, a bit cuddly… And if you end up having to watch cartoons with them at four in the morning, snuggled up under a blanket, is that really so bad?