It’s no secret that traveling with children can be daunting. As exciting as it is to experience new places together, it’s not always easy getting there. However, even though traveling with your kids can be stressful, it is so rewarding. The lessons that traveling teaches are invaluable. Traveling provides your child with new experiences that enrich their understanding of the world and, ultimately, their life. When it comes to traveling with kids, preparation of many forms ahead of time is vital and will further equip you for the journey ahead.
The key to traveling successfully with children is for you to be as patient, proactive, and optimistic as possible. There are two main types of parent reactions to tantrums: proactive reactions and reactive reactions. A proactive reaction is what you do ahead of time to set the environment up for success. Anticipate the potential outcome and plan around it in order to create the best outcome for all involved. A reactive reaction is what you do in the heat of the moment while a tantrum is occurring. Reactive reactions involve responding to issues and circumstances as they occur, instead of beforehand. These can be positive or negative reactions depending on your emotional and mental state and how you approach your child’s behavior.
Another important aspect of traveling with children is communication. Being communicative with your child as you travel is an effective way to manage and avoid tantrums. The more that your child is aware of the plan, the less worry they’ll feel. Knowing what comes next in the travel process may help put them at ease and keep tantrums or heightened emotions at bay. Your child will be able to understand more of the process than you may think!
PREPARATION IS KEY
Logistical preparation ahead of time is crucial for travel success. You don’t want to overpack too much gear, but you also want to make sure you have everything you need. The more opportunities you have to travel with your children, the more knowledge you’ll gather on what products, items, and systems work best for your family.
There are so many toys, books, and activities made for every age that are easy to travel with. Books about travel or vacation would be fun for your child to explore leading up to the trip or during the trip since they can make connections to the book with their current situation. Snacks are always a helpful item to have on hand. Filling a lidded snack container with Goldfish or other small crackers makes for a fun and easy snack. A snack spinner or "snackle box" (tackle box with snacks in each compartment) is both an activity and a snack! These containers present the opportunity for you to offer a variety of snacks at once to your child. Pouches and fruit snacks are also easy travel snacks. It might be a good idea to have some kind of treat on hand to offer them when needed. The Pop Ups lollipop is a minimal mess treat that they can play with as well.
Make sure you pack gear, especially a stroller, that makes the trip run more smoothly and more accessible. The Unilove On The Go 2-In-1 Lightweight Stroller is a wonderful stroller to travel with. It’s very lightweight, making it easier to navigate around the airport or collapse and store in the trunk. It has a maximum weight limit of 55 pounds so it can be used through toddlerhood. It adapts to most car seats and can be stowed in the overhead bins on an airplane.
Additionally, it's always a good idea to pack an extra outfit for both your child and yourself. From spills to blowouts and everywhere in between, you just never know what may happen! It’s always good to be equipped with extra clothes. It’s better to pack them and not need them than to need them and not have them.
SIX COPING STRATEGIES FOR MANAGING TANTRUMS
Emotional and mental preparation is also extremely valuable in the process of traveling with your child. Depending on who you ask, some may say this is likely more crucial than preparing the logistic side of travel, especially when it comes to mitigating travel-induced tantrums.
Establish and Emphasize Self-Regulation Skills
It’s vital to make sure your child has some emotional coping strategies and self-regulation skills on hand that they can utilize when they’re overwhelmed. Breathing exercises, such as pretending to blow up a balloon, allows them to slow down and take a deep breath. This ultimately helps calm them down in the heat of the moment. Emotion flash cards may be a helpful resource during these moments as well so they can identify what they’re experiencing. The act of identifying their emotions may calm them down as they will feel validated and relieved to articulate what’s going on within them.
Develop and Strengthen Patience Ability
Traveling in general requires a lot of patience, and patience isn’t an easy trait for anyone to develop, especially children. You can help develop their patience by playing “waiting games,” such as Your Turn, My Turn, in the lead-up to the trip. Your Turn, My Turn is a simple game where you take turns with a toy as you play with your child. Encourage them to follow your lead and talk about what you are doing as you're doing it. Take turns talking about what you see while looking at a book together. Play a game of tossing a ball back and forth as you each say "My turn!" on your turn. You could even play waiting games throughout the travel process to sharpen their patience ability.
Take a Break
It is important to take breaks whenever possible throughout your travels in order to keep your child and yourself refreshed. Sometimes, to manage or quell a tantrum, you may just have to remove your child from an overwhelming situation for them to recalibrate. This is not always possible, especially during airplane travel, but when it is, take advantage of it.
Make sure everyone is fed, clean, and comfortable. This will ultimately set you up for success. If your child is comfortable, they will have fewer physical triggers causing tantrums and may experience a higher level of peace and contentment in their travel environment.
Utilize the tried-and-true distraction technique by offering them toys, books, snacks, or anything else they would be excited about. Being distracted by an exciting item or activity helps to take their mind off of their current situation and environment. Also, there should be absolutely no shame in having screen time during travel. Watching shows on a tablet or a parent’s phone might be all that your child needs to make it through the trip. It can be a real sanity-saver for all involved!
Make Them a Backpack of Fun
Provide your child with their own little backpack that they can navigate independently. Fill it with a few new items, such as a drawing pad, new book, new stuffed animal, or anything else they’d be surprised and excited to see. The excitement of new items and toys may uplift their mood and engross them in new activities (buying you some time before a potential breakdown.)
FOUR STRATEGIES FOR ACTIVE TANTRUM MANAGEMENT
Figuring out how to navigate a tantrum in the heat of the moment can be stressful and upsetting. That’s why it’s so important to have coping strategies and “tools” in your figurative emotional toolbox in advance that you can pull from. Each tantrum and scenario is unique and may require a different response.
Provide Them With Emotional Security
Sometimes, all your child needs is to be reminded that they’re safe, loved, and that they can trust you during this new adventure. Getting on their eye level and speaking these truths to them may assuage the overwhelming emotions they’re experiencing, quelling the tantrum.
Don’t Try to Reason with Them
When your child is overcome with emotions and experiencing a tantrum, don’t try to reason with them or get to the bottom of the specifics that they’re upset about. They aren’t able to fully articulate their stressors while they’re experiencing big emotions. You can discuss more specific information and unpack their feelings with them later on once they’ve calmed down and you’re out of the travel environment.
Offer Your Child a Couple of Simple Choices
If they’re continually being triggered by feeling a lack of control over the situation, or if they’re getting frustrated by not being able to fully express their independence due to the traveling circumstances, offering simple choices to them can help. Whenever possible, offer them a couple of choices (both choices being within your intended goal) for them to choose from. This helps them feel like they have some say in what’s happening, which gives them some sense of control in a situation where they don’t have much to begin with. For example, you have to wait at the airport gate before boarding the plane. They may feel antsy and frustrated by this. To help them feel a sense of control, you could ask them, “Would you like to read a book or eat a snack while we wait?”
Ignore the Tantrum
Another option is to simply ignore them and just let the tantrum happen. This option is easier to do when you’re in the car on a road trip, versus being on a plane surrounded by others. If you choose to let the tantrum run its course, remove yourselves from the environment if possible to avoid disturbing others (maybe to the bathroom if you’re at the airport, or in your car if you’re on a road trip.) Sit with them and be an anchor for them as they sort through their emotions. They will likely tire out and then calm themselves down with your assistance.
Travel expands your child’s world and helps them appreciate other cultures, people, and places. Although traveling with children can be exhausting and overwhelming at times, it truly is worth it for the enjoyable and enriching experiences you will encounter together. With logistical preparation and behavior management techniques prepared ahead of time, you will be better equipped for success. Remember to stay as calm and optimistic as possible, since your child will respond to your energy. Problems may arise throughout your travel, but don’t forget to enjoy your child and have fun!