This is the season of get-togethers and holiday travels. While it’s a joyous time of year, the hustle and bustle of Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s can create anxiety for children. Make your visits with family and friends, or your holiday vacation getaway, enjoyable for everybody with just a little preparation.
Stick to regular routines whenever possible — Unusual schedules and unfamiliar faces are especially upsetting for younger travelers. Consistent meal times and naps, combined with keeping up familiar habits, like reading a book before bed, keeps the stress of the unfamiliar to a minimum. Pack a bag of favorite toys and snuggle blanket, and be prepared to escape with your child to a quiet room for a little one-on-one time.
Use that Energy — Encourage physical exercise. It releases tension and burns excess energy. Plan daily for at least two half-hour opportunities for physical activities and play. If your trip to grandma’s house involves a long drive, take a break every couple of hours — it’s safer for the driver, and the kids are less likely to go stir crazy in the back seat, even with on-board videos. If you see a curly haired woman doing jumping jacks at a rest stop on the Interstate, it’s probably me.
Don’t over-schedule — Activity overload tires everyone out. Visiting your grandparents and in-laws on the same day might be more than you or the kids can handle. Ditto, spending all day at Disneyland or Legoland without enough wind-down time before bed. Your child will let you know when s/he is done. Even if you have not done everything you planned for the day’s agenda, letting go of that last event could help avoid a major meltdown.
What’s on the Menu? — Have healthy snacks ready for when the big holiday dinner is just not appetizing enough for your little one. Limit foods that might affect behavior, such as those that have refined sugar and artificial additives. On our recent three-generation family ski trip, my daughter shipped a box of the kids’ favorite Trader Joe’s snacks ahead to our condo, which I thought was a brilliant idea. It saved shopping time during our holiday, and ensured that the kids would have familiar foods in an unfamiliar place.
Set Clear Guidelines — Remind your children of your expectations before visiting grandparents or going to the airport. Remember to acknowledge and praise good behavior. But have realistic expectations. Even if you are in a special place, your child is still a child and will act like one. And — please — do whatever it takes to calm your toddler on an airplane.
Encourage Learning — The most important thing about holiday travel is to share in your child’s vacation experience. Seeing things through their eyes and talking with them about what they feel enhances the sense of adventure and being together. Ask “what if” or “how do you think” questions, play games (such as the license plate game), make up stories or draw pictures about your adventures. These are all great ways to encourage learning before, during and after vacations.
Some of these travel tips are from Learning Care Group, which operates early education and child care services under the brand names The Children’s Courtyard, Childtime Learning Centers, La Petite Academy, Montessori Unlimited and Tutor Time Child Care/Learning Centers.