Tina’s Family Travel Tips

Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal, Parent Coach and Parenting Speaker

Are you planning a car or plane trip with your children this month or next? Stop and think about whether you are feeling excited or anxious about it. If you are excited, you can move on to the next article. If you’re anxious, read on …

As with all issues with challenging behavior, a new way of thinking about your experience with
your child can be very helpful. To re-think vacation may seem difficult, but rather than fill your mind with dread, imagine 10 hours in the car as a time to build family intimacy.

Here are tips for making your trip the best it can be:

  1. Give each child a job for the trip.  One child can keep track of where you are on the map. Another can be the one who hands everyone the snacks, and another can take pictures. Disposable cameras are worth their weight in gold for developing skills and interest in photography. Someone needs to journal about the trip, so have a spiral notebook handy.  And older kids should take care of the needs of younger ones.
  2.  Hold a family meeting that focuses on the trip. Have the children help you create a list of travel rules that start with “no”, and review that a break will be the result of breaking a rule. Yes, the break can take place in the car, in a restaurant, at the water park, in the motel, with relatives present – wherever and whenever it is needed. And remember it’s not a punishment. It’s simply a procedure for what we do when we do something we don’t want to do.  Speak from the children’s perspective and predict their success: “We want you to have a wonderful time on our trip, and not be in trouble at all. We think vacation should be fun for you, and we know that you can be successful. Remember how fabulous you were when we went out to eat last week? This will be like that, only longer, with more chances to be successful.” Be sure that the rule list is in the car with you. One of the rules should be, “No not having fun.”
  3. Be sure that the kids have a seating arrangement that sets them up for success. If possible, seat them so that they cannot touch each other with hands or feet. If it’s not possible, make the rules about touching very, very clear.
  4. Bring along plenty of workbooks, crayons, markers, and games. Limit screen time to one hour per day. Lap desks, with a flat surface on top and bean bag material on the bottom, work well in the car.
  5. Plan for car games, such as the old standby alphabet game. Some book suggestions are: Are We There Yet? by Richard Salter, The Rand McNally Kids’ Road Atlas, (Backseat Books) and The Amazing Backseat Booka-Ma-thing (Klutz Press).
  6. Have a cooler with plenty of snacks and drinks. Include the kids’ input when you shop for these, but remind them in advance that there will be no junk food. Granola bars, trail mix, and juice with no high fructose corn syrup are ideal.
  7. Give heartfelt appreciation for kind words between the kids, sitting nicely, asking for things in a gentle tone of voice, and pointing out interesting sights. Say, “This is exactly what we decided on in our family meeting, and I could not be happier. I think it must make you happy, too.” (This is the “building family intimacy” part.)
  8. Keep your tone of voice the same…calm and relaxed, even when things go awry. You always have the choice to keep the emotion level low. Choose to let the kids know through your tone that nothing is going to spoil this good time, which is very reassuring to them.
  9. Make sure everyone has a pillow, and bring along the favorite blankets. Say, “I want you to be so comfortable in the car.”
  10. If a child asks for the same thing over and over, first redirect the conversation to another interesting topic: “Show me what you drew on your paper,” or “Did you notice that the trees here are different from the ones near our house? I wonder what they call those trees.” Use a time out if redirection doesn’t have the desired effect.
  11. Use this time together to talk about what you love about each child. The others will catch on to it, and begin to see what they love about one another, as well. “Cecily always wants to know where we are…she might be a travel guide or geography teacher some day!” “Brandon is our cleaner upper…do we ever love having him on our trip!” “Sam loves to point out the fun things he sees. I think he is a fabulous travel companion.”
  12.  Travel time is an opportunity to cultivate healthy curiosity in children. They will have many opinions on what could be true. Don’t insist on their being right all the time. Just let them have an opinion, and respond with, “I think that’s an interesting way to think about it,” or “You could be right about that.” Being right isn’t the most important thing…learning to think creatively and question what you see in the world is.
  13. Let the kids know that this is your vacation, too. Plan for adult time in advance, and tell the children you will be taking it each day. If they can anticipate it, they are much more likely to accept it and comply with bedtime or mid-day downtime.
  14. Anticipation is always the key. If you talk about what will happen tomorrow, in an hour, or in five minutes, children have a much easier time accepting the changes. This is particularly true on vacation.
  15. Have fun yourself. Let the kids know that you are delighted when a bald eagle sails by, or you have a great trip down the water slide. Let them see that you are excited about a wonderful photo you took, or about a journal entry you made, or a meal that tastes exceptionally good to you. Share your inner world with them…that’s how they learn to enjoy themselves as adults one day.

Enjoy, and blog about your vacation successes here or on www.facebook.com/parentingmojo.

For parent coaching with Tina, call 651-453-0123 or write to tina@parentingmojo.com.

Copyright © 2011 Tina Feigal

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