As a parent of a five-year-old, we often dread long car rides or even short airplane rides as we never know what kind of reaction to expect out of our child. Over the last three years of traveling, we have found a few methods that have helped us travel almost worry-free with our five-year-old.
- Bring Distractions. In my experience when children’s minds run free in a controlled and static environment there is not much you can do to prevent any potential negative side effects. Traveling downtime is a lot different then downtime at home. If you are able to put something in front of them that brings them joy the whole experience of traveling will bring less stress to the parents which in the end benefits the child as well. What works well for our child is a tablet as well as simple word searches and paint by sticker books. All of these require only one or two ‘pieces’ and is easily stuffed into a backpack or in any traditional carry-on.
- Noise canceling headphones. Even when traveling without a child noise canceling headphones are a lifesaver. When we first introduced our child to noise canceling headphones at the age of three, flying turned into a much better experience whether she was watching and listening to a movie or simply listening to music. It seemed to help her become distracted by the many negatives of being on a plane or in a car for a long time. It helped her to zone out and instead of concentrating on the long car ride or the bumps and noises of a plane, she was engulfed in the movie or music that was in front of her at the time.
- Drinks. Usually at home things other than drinking water and milk are considered treats. When we travel we try to reward her with these ‘treats’ throughout the travel process. Again, this has a similar effect that the headphones have in that they seem to easily distract her from everything happening outside her personal bubble. She is able to enjoy the drink and take her time drinking it because she knows it is something special.
- Their own backpack. We have found that allowing my kid to bring a small backpack that she is able to pack herself really helps her to get involved in the entire traveling process. We let her know that these are the things she will be able to play with on the plane or in the car and while she is limited the choices (within reason) are up to her. This mind game allows the child to take a vested interest in the trip, they are packing toys, books, and games to take on the trip that are to be used on the trip. Often my child will try to put things like LEGOS in her backpack but there is a point where as a parent you have to draw the line of a toy or game that is actually practical when traveling.
- Relax. As parents, we can often find ourselves overly concerned about what others are thinking of our well (or bad) behaved child. Almost everyone has been where you have been. Take a minute step back, take a big breath and relax. Usually, the end result of a trip is an experience that you and your child can remember for many years to come and that should be cherished. Have fun, relax, and let your child do the same.