Don’t Be Unnerved When Traveling with Tots
by Nina Wolgelenter
This feature article from 2011 helps show parents that careful planning, managing expectations (theirs, and their children’s) and some creativity can go a long way to making travel less chaotic.
“Pack a pen,” says Jonathan Pugh of Uptown. “You can make great hand puppets with the airsickness bags.” He should know. Jonathan and his wife Kiran, originally from England, moved here from Holland in 2006 with four-year-old daughter India and two-year-old son Joshua.
Whether it’s by car, plane, train or camel, Lisa Phillips, a Parent Educator with the Parenting Center at Children’s Hospital, reminds parents to have “realistic expectations when it comes to travel.” Routines are going to change, naps and bed times will be different, as well as meals and story time and many other activities your kids associate with home.
“Talk to your child about what to expect,” says Pat Blackwell, Ph.D., a Developmental Psychologist and a regular contributor to nola baby & family magazine. “We forget to do this. We look at [the itinerary] over and over; kids want to know what to expect too.”
Dr. Blackwell offers several suggestions to help your children understand your upcoming adventure, including making simply story books using crayons and stick figures so your kids know what is going on. You can draw a picture of who is meeting you at the airport, what time of day you will be arriving, and showing them your destination on a map. “There is going to be some high anxiety, and parents are going to have to prepare and watch their children carefully,” she adds.
Toys in, rules out.
Airline delays are inevitable these days. “Diversions, variety and distraction,” says Lisa, citing the keys to making it through long layovers at the departure gate and tedious hours in flight. “Take some of their favorite toys away a few weeks before your trip and reintroduce them one at a time,” Lisa suggests.
“If India wants to watch movies for 20 hours, she can watch movies for 20 hours,” says Jonathan. Kiran’s newest magic trick includes nothing more than an empty tissue box filled with numerous little treasures. “Kids love to pull things out for hours,” she says. And Lisa’s lifesaver on one trip came in the form of a seatbelt. The flight attendant offered her the demo belt and her daughter spent a good portion of the flight intrigued by its mechanics.
“I let [my son] have a part in picking what he is going to take,” says April Houston of Algiers. She and her two-and-a-half-year-old son, Jacob, travel monthly between New Orleans and the Atlanta area, and have had to learn along the way. With a mommy-backpack and a separate Jacob-backpack in hand, she lets him know they will not open it until “we are high in the sky.”
Stressed by strangers.
It’s easy to be intimidated by the stares of strangers on a plane as you walk down the aisle with your charge. “In the U.S. there is a lot less tolerance of kids being kids,” says Dr. Blackwell. “They are not designed to be quiet.” You have to get over your concern about what everyone else thinks, take control of these situations and put the others around you at ease or “filter out the negativity of other adults,” she adds.
“Have a sense of humor. Kids take their lead from the parent. If the parent has a sense of humor, it will relieve others,” Dr. Blackwell says. However, adds Lisa, “Sometimes there is nothing you can do.” She suggests you always make an attempt to calm a child or redirect their focus. As long as others see that you are trying, there is less hostility and in some cases, even help from a neighboring passenger is offered.
Of course, sometimes there is no trick in the world to help quell a tantrum or prevent misbehavior. “Don’t do what goes against your grain, but you do have to have flexibility,” advises Lisa. Whereas at home, sometimes giving snacks to quiet a child can seem like a reward for tantrums, at 25,000 miles in the sky, snacks can be your savior.
Are we there yet?
We’re all thinking it, but kids never seem to refrain from asking the interminable question. If you avoided highway rest stops in the past, you won’t anymore. “When Parker was a baby, the biggest challenge was keeping him fed and in clean diapers,” says Nick Burckel of Slidell. Now Parker’s potty-trained, but his second son, 11-month-old Peyton, isn’t. “My wife Amy and I plan our trips ahead, knowing where there are clean rest stops as well as baby-friendly restaurants.”
The Burckels invested in a portable DVD player for longer road trips, and Nick says that buys him and his wife an hour or two of peace. “Parker’s very into cars and trucks,” adds Nick. “We can keep him entertained by pointing them out to him.” Playing car games we played as kids also can keep little ones entertained.
“Our approach was to plan less, so you have more time to spend doing the things you have planned,” says Jonathan. “For us, while on holiday, routine went away and the kids were more flexible,” he adds. However, not all kids can give up routine.
“Make exceptions for kids who don’t travel well,” says Dr. Blackwell. “Some kids just can’t handle it. If it’s a pleasure trip, try to choose a destination that is in line with what your tot will enjoy, not what you think they should enjoy.” Disney Land, she says, is a good example. “Some kids find it frightening,” she says.
It’s also important to keep an emergency list with names and numbers handy, bring along extra medicines for your kids and pack a small childproofing kit for hotels and other people’s houses, including outlet covers and cabinet locks.
Most importantly, remember this is supposed to be a vacation. It’s OK for you to relax and enjoy yourself too.