Traveling children can be terrific, but also exhausting for everyone involved. Here are some tips to keep children calm and happy during their travels.
Infants: Make sure you pack items to keep the infant on her schedule. If flying, make sure you have enough liquids for her to bottle-feed, or allow her to breast-feed, during take off and landing. The pressure changes at these stages of flight affect infants’ ears. Breast- or bottle-feeding during take off and landing will help keep their ears clear. With older infants, be sure to pack enough food and snacks to get them through the flight, accounting for possible delays. Try to mimic the sleeping environment at home. Bring along favorite blankets and crib toys so they have familiar objects. Make a packing list for each child to help remember the important items to pack.
Toddlers: Talk to your toddler before and during the trip, explaining what is happening and what will happen next. Most young children have no concept of time increments, and will have no idea how long they will be away from home. Before you leave, show them pictures of where the family is going, what you will do while there, and how you will travel to and back from your destination. If possible, try to keep the same schedule for naps, bath and bedtime. Allow for a few days for the toddler to adjust to the new environment. Remember, sleeping in a new place is scary for toddlers and young children, so bringing a nightlight, special music and special toys will help them become more at ease.
Children: Make sure to bring plenty of toys, books and games that will entertain the children in the car, train or airplane, as it is difficult for children to sit quietly for long periods of time. Bring DVDs, CDs, books and, if possible, go to the dollar store to purchase travel toys or take some toys away to be brought out again for the trip so they will seem interesting. Make sure to slowly introduce games or books one at a time, spacing the items to last through the journey. Arts and crafts are terrific for children, as are certain small action figures. If you are taking a long flight or train ride, walk around as much as possible before you depart, then walk the child down the aisle frequently to help expend energy.
As with toddlers, make sure to explain where the family is going, for how long, and what will happen during your time away. Draw pictures with them that tell a story to prepare them for what your destination will look like and what you will do once you get there. Sometimes children feel tired or bored during travel and will act out more often. Check in often; ask how they are doing and what they like or dislike during the trip. Also, have plenty of snacks. Packing each child a small bag with snacks and items to keep them busy will help them through the hours of sitting.
Teens: Try to involve your teens in the travel plans. Ask them places they would like to go and why. If their ideas seem plausible, have them research the destination. Show them how to book travel--from finding lodging, to booking tickets, to arranging transportation and so on. Make them part of the process to help teens learn what is involved in arranging travel plans. If age appropriate, allow teens some freedom during the trip. Try to find activities they will learn from, but also enjoy.
Family vacations are a wonderful way for families to bond and enjoy time together. A little planning ahead goes a long way toward everyone’s good time.
Tammy Gold is a licensed therapist, certified parent coach as well as a national parenting expert who regularly appears on outlets such as Good Morning America, The Today Show, Fox and CBS News. She also writes for items such as the Huffington Post and The Bump.com. Tammy has been working with parents for over a decade and her book Secrets of the Nanny Whisperer is the first time a therapist merges aspects of psychology into finding and achieving high level childcare.
By Tammy Gold, LCSW, MSW, CEC
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