Summer is finally here, and for a lot of us that means vacations are quickly approaching. For those of us with young kids, traveling may seem daunting and too much to handle. It doesn’t have to be though. I have some tips and tricks that may help as you prepare for your upcoming vacation. I will cover these 3 categories: packing, prepping, and how to save a meltdown.
First, what should you pack? I like to make a checklist of everything I could possibly need for where we are going. Then I divide the list in 3 sections. First, what I can pack ahead of time like outfits and travel toiletries. Then, what I need to grab the morning of the trip like phone chargers and sound machines. Last, what can I outsource or get when I arrive at my destination like diapers and wipes or extra snacks. I always recommend packing an extra outfit for each person (not just the kids), you never know what could happen and it's nice to have that extra outfit. I also always suggest to pack a basic first aid kit with bandaids, pain reliever (childrens as well), and antibiotic ointment. I like to pack enough diapers and wipes for the first night and then get a grocery delivery for the rest.
For those of us with small children, you may already know that most kids thrive on a routine or schedule. If you veer from the routine unexpectedly you may be in for a meltdown. I recommend preparing your child ahead of time so they know what to expect and can ask any questions they may have when you have a clear mind to answer. As opposed to in the middle of a busy airport as you are running to find the gate. There are many great children’s books about traveling by plane, boat, car, or any other method. Reading these books, watching shows about traveling, and simply just talking to your child in simple informative language is all you need to do to prepare them. Prep them multiple times leading up to the day you leave. You could say something like, “In 3 days we are going on an exciting adventure. We will wake up early in the morning and drive to the airport. Then we will get on a big airplane, and the airplane will take us to Florida. You will get to sit next to me on the plane. Once we get to Florida, we will take a car to our hotel where we will stay on our vacation. We will do lots of exciting things on our vacation, and then when we are done we will go back to the airport and an airplane will take us back home. Let’s read this book about traveling on an airplane, then you can ask me any questions you have.” Answer whatever questions that come up no matter how silly they may seem.
No matter how much you prepare your child, a meltdown can happen. First I try to use preventative measures to help lessen the chance of a meltdown. Prepare the child for what's going to happen, give lots of warnings before transitions, and make sure basic needs are met. What do you do if you have done what you can to prevent a meltdown, and it still happens. First, take breath, this is normal developmental behavior and you will both get through it. Next, assess the situation and act accordingly. If the child is hurting themselves or others (banging their head on floor or hitting someone), remove them to a safe space and offer them support. You can say something like, “I see that you are feeling upset and frustrated, it’s ok to feel that way, it is not ok to hit. I am going to move you to another space to keep you safe.” Once you have assessed the situation and made sure everyone is safe, offer support and comfort to your child. You can say something like, “I am so sorry you are feeling this way, I am right here with you. Would you like to read a book and snuggle with me while you calm down?” If the child is inconsolable and struggling to work through the meltdown (which can happen especially when traveling and out of their typical routine) I like to pull out what I call the Magic Bag. This is just a bag with snacks, activities, books, and toys that can be used as a distraction. It is important to not try to teach calming techniques during a meltdown, it really won't be effective while their emotions are heightened. After your child is through the meltdown and calm, you can discuss ways to express anger and frustration. It is also important to discuss what they can do if they are upset. Model these techniques (such as breathing, asking for help, counting to 5, etc) so the child can practice and master the skill of regulating their emotions.
My last tip is to lower your expectations. Traveling with kids is unpredictable and no matter how much you prepare there is bound to be a few unexpected hiccups. Try to focus on the overall experience and remember they will most likely only remember the fun parts of the trip. Find moments for yourself, it's your vacation too right? Don’t be afraid to bring a grandparent or friend along to help. When all else fails, remember it will be over soon so try to laugh and enjoy yourself!