Friday, June 20, 2014

Preparing Young Children for Travel

I think travel is hard on most of us. I love to travel and see new things, try new foods, meet new people, etc. Even though I love it, it can be hard. Planes get delayed, there are long lines for the junky airport food, and once you get to your destination you have to adjust to different sleeping arrangements, changes to the normal schedule, and more.

Last year we went to Vermont for a niece's wedding when the baby was 6 weeks old and the toddler had just turned two. I didn't really talk about the trip before hand because I thought the toddler wouldn't understand. So we basically just got up and said we are going on a trip today. Ha, that didn't work well. I was worried about the actual travel with two small children - the plane, the airport and the second plane trip. But we were prepared with snacks, presents, activities and videos for back-up, and that was a breeze. The hard part was the ten days in Vermont. The toddler was SO homesick. She kept saying she wanted to go home, she wanted to eat lunch at her house, she wanted to sleep in her crib, she wanted to play with her toys. She didn't eat or sleep well the whole time, and so it was a hard trip for us all. (When the kids aren't happy, no one is happy.)

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With this in mind, we tried to really plan ahead for preparing our toddler for our big summer adventure. I think most two and three year olds like their routine and are leery of change, but our daughter might be worse than many. I asked around for advice from friends and  preschool teachers and compiled this list of suggestions.

Tips for Preparing Young Children For Travel (2-3 years old)

1. Start reading books about travel and visiting new places in advance.

I went through a couple of "best travel books for kids" lists, and then requested a bunch of them through our public library. Here are a few titles that were repeat reads at our house: Knuffle Bunny Free, Toot and Puddle, Dodsworth in Paris, Dodsworth in New York, The Big Trip, How to Make an Apple Pie and See the World, and If You Decide to Go to the Moon. They expose kids to preparing for a trip, different modes of transportation, and how things might be different at your destination.

2. Start discussing our specific trip about 7-10 days before the trip. (Or as far in advance as you are willing to discuss, "Do we go on our trip today?")

Our daughter at age 2 going on 3 still has very little concept of time. Everything in the past is "yesterday," and everything in the future is "later." (I guess we should work on that? ;) So this was a big question for me. We told her about the big trip about 10 days in advance, and that was plenty of time for her to mull it over and get excited about going on a plane. Ten days happened to be right after her birthday party, so it was perfect. We got to focus on the party and then shift our attention to the trip.

3. When you do start talking about the trip, try discussing it at bath time and other times when your child is in a good mood.

4. Create a photo book/social story book describing the process of what, where and when we will be going and who we will see.

I didn't get around to making a book, but we did look at lots of photos of family we would see and places we would visit. She was also curious about what our plane would look like, so we googled images of Southwest planes too. I think that was all really helpful.

5. Bring lots of comfort items from home - as many as we can comfortably pack. Including books, blankets, stuffed animals, toys and decorations.

This has been indispensable. Bring all the blankies, babies, animals, CDs, cups, etc. that your kids are used to using. Last year on our trip to Vermont we were still in our before kids mindset of packing only what could fit in two backpacks, and we knew my sister-in-law had pulled out a whole Little People village. We thought because they had toys, blankets, dishes, etc, that we would just bring clothes and diapers. What a mistake! Things have been so much easier this year with some comforts from home.

6. Maintain a regular schedule for eating and sleeping up until departure.

Eating good healthy meals up until the trip can help start your adventure with your best, healthiest and most energetic selves. 

My husband and I both vote for Number 5 - Comfort items from home as the most important.

Stay tuned for up-coming posts on tips for the day of travel and settling in at your destination.

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