Travel can be difficult for anyone, especially for little ones – but there are ways to make your summer family vacation less stressful.
“Switching up our day-to-day routine can be unsettling for many of us, but especially children who thrive in environments that are consistent and predictable. Add on top of that a child who struggles with anxiety, sensory issues, ADHD or other challenges, and traveling can prove to be quite stressful,” explains Melissa Dowd, therapist at PlushCare, a virtual primary care and mental health platform.
In order to help your family vacation go as smooth as possible, to minimize stress and optimize fun, we asked experts to share their tips.
Traveling with kids? Don’t skip sleep, snacks.
Aside from parents keeping calm and organized, make sure the child has slept and is fed prior to travel , advises Dr. Rebecca Jackson, vice president of programs and outcomes for Brain Balance, a learning program for children with developmental and learning disabilities.
“No one likes to be hungry. Our brain requires fuel to function and behave. When we run low on fuel we have less control, at any age. Keep in mind that the younger you are the harder it is to control your mood and behaviors,” she adds.
Sleep is another vital factor. As Jackson puts it, “a tired brain doesn’t do well.”
“To really set yourself up for success for the whole family is making sure that you’re still getting good quality sleep,” she says. “One of my pet peeves is, as parents, so often we do things that don’t set our kids up for success and then we get mad at them when they meltdown or are uncooperative. But sometimes we’re the ones that chose to skip the nap or kept them up hours past bedtime.”
Keep things similar for a smooth transition
“The very nature of travel breaks up our routine: the destination is often unfamiliar, there are stimuli that we’re not used to experiencing, we are often in a car or plane for long periods of time so quarters are tight, and our sleep schedules are disrupted and impacted,” Dowd explains. “Regardless of what a child might be struggling with, it’s so important to keep the routine as similar to home as possible.”
Dowd says this may include things like:
- Similar bedtime routine and timing
- Maintaining healthy food options as best as possible
- Setting clear expectations and agendas at the start of each day so your child feels safe and settled in their new environment
- Paying attention to your child’s cues
Got a meltdown? Here’s how to handle it.
The first step in handling a child’s meltdown? Going into the trip knowing it’s going to happen, Jackson says.
How to bounce back? Take some quiet time away from the exciting-yet-fatiguing vacation stimulation.
“if you see a meltdown (or) if it’s ramping up towards that… find a quiet space,” Jackson suggests. “This isn’t the time to lecture your child about their behavior or their actions. This is just simply a reset – calm, cool, quiet…. so that you can reengage back in the fun.”
Get the kids involved with vacation plans
Traveling can make someone anxious because there are so many unknowns. And with a family, so many personalities to appease.
“A great way to ensure everyone feels included and has fun is by allowing each member of the family to choose an activity they would like to do while on the trip (within reason, of course!),” Dowd suggests. “This allows for each member to feel special, and it’s a great way to encourage quality time with the family.”
Long journey? Consider packing these.
To help keep kids entertained on a long ride or even while stuck at the airport, consider bringing along some portable distractions like video games.
For non-tech options, Jackson suggests bringing small yet age appropriate activities that engage the senses to help keep the mood positive and the kids distracted.
This includes options like books, crayons and small containers of playdough or bubbles.
If your child is sensitive to loud noises, consider noise-canceling headphones.
And to help avoid discomfort during a flight takeoff, bring something to help prevent or soothe ear pressure such as gum or a lollipop.
Parents, don’t be hard on yourself
Lastly, parents deserve a break too.
“I encourage parents to practice patience, flexibility and grace with everyone involved, including themselves,” Dowd says. “Traveling can be stressful on everyone, and we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make the trip perfect. If we can ease up on ourselves and others a bit and focus on the true intentions we have set for our summer trip, it is likely to be even that much more enjoyable.”
“Plan as best you can and know that not everything is going to go according to that plan. And that is OK!” she adds.
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