Preparing your Kids for the Trip
If you're getting ready to go on a trip with kids, you're probably more worried about preparing yourself than them. Afterall, you've got a mountain of gear to pack, hotel reservations to reconfirm, and details to check and recheck. Put that all on hold for a minute -- if you forget something, you can always buy it at your destination. It’s important to recognize that you’ll be expecting your child to follow you through one unfamiliar situation after another. Not knowing what to expect, especially if mom and dad seem stressed can be scary for a young child. It's worthwhile to set your child's expectations about what's going to happen (and your expectations for their behavior). With any luck, your travel days will feel more like a grand adventure and less like an upheaval.
As with most new experiences, the overall theme is to a) act out and talk about what will happen, especially any parts that might be scary or disorienting b) read stories or show videos the demonstrate what will happen and c) clearly describe what behavior you expect.
Preparing Babies and Toddlers to Fly
- There's no need to start talking about the trip more than a day ahead.
- Tell your child exactly what will happen For example: "We'll drive to the airport, go through security, and then get on a plane. You'll get to sit next to me, and we'll play together. When we land, we'll drive to grandma's house"
- On the day of travel, remember to keep narrating what is happening and what will happen next.
- Picture books are a great help for this age. If you are flying with a toddler, I particularly like the Planes Board Book by Byron Barton
- Manipulatives, especially ones you can bring with you, are fun and helpful too. This Playmobil 1.2.3 Propeller Plane is safe for kids under 3, and you can act out the process of getting on the plane, sitting down, and taking off with the included character.
Preparing Preschoolers to Travel
- Preschoolers love to act things out. In addition to talking about what will happen, and reading to your child, you can line up chairs and pretend to get onboard an airplane, train, or into the car. A kitchen table might serve as a security conveyor belt, with an empty box as the x-ray machine. Don't forget to act out having your child put his or her lovey through the x-ray!
- For this age, I particularly like the book Airport by Byron Barton.
- Two great sticker books that you can work on with your child are Little Airport Sticker Activity Book and the Train Station Sticker Activity Book (at $1.50 each, they're also a great value)
- Beginning at about age two (and younger for kids with rich imaginations), you can give your child a small bag and ask them to pack a few important items. (We use Eagle Creek Packing Cubes because they're small, lightweight, and have a handle). Perhaps they will choose some toys, a treasured lovey, or a few books. Let your child carry the bag or hold it on their lap (but make sure you have space to stow it when they're tired). At this age, you'll still need to pack a separate busy bag, but as they get older they'll learn to provide their own entertainment. You may be surprised how comforting a self-packed suitcase can be, even for a very young child. My son used to carry his around with him all day whenever we were out of town.
Preparing School Age Kids for a Trip
With older kids, start earlier, telling them about the destination, what you’ll do there, and perhaps teaching them some of the local language (or learning it together). You can find books about the destination or look at pictures online. Be careful that in your excitement to teach your kids about where they're going you don't remove the joy of discovery and exploration from the trip itself. Let their interest level guide you.
Involve your school age child in the packing and preparation. Give them a packing list, and let them select their own clothing (you might want to review their choices before you go)
For this age, a travel journal and an inexpensive digital camera may greatly add to the whole family's enjoyment of the trip and your memories.
In addition to telling your kids about your destination and what they should expect to do once there, make sure you share all the details about how you'll get there. Things that seem little (or obvious) to you, like riding to the airport in a taxi or shuttle, might be stressful for young children. On the day of travel keep reiterating what's going to happen next and, when appropriate, what expectations you have of your children (e.g. I expect you to wear your seatbelt on the plane just like you do in the car.