Traveling with your toddler or preschooler

Part 2 of our Travel Series

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Most toddlers, contrary to infants, understand and use language to communicate, but the degree to which they understand and express themselves with words varies greatly. You can and should therefore help your toddler or preschooler by explaining things to her in words, bearing in mind that children at this stage of development are very concrete and immersed in the present moment. Here are some suggestions that will help prepare your toddler for traveling and for being away from home.

Traveling with your toddler or preschooler (part 2 of 3)

  • Tell your child about your trip only a few days before you leave.   Young children are unable to understand time as adults do and the anticipation of a trip that is several weeks away may cause anxiety. For example, a two and half year old cannot understand what 3 weeks really means and he may think that your date of departure is the day after you discuss the trip. This will result in 3 weeks of repeatedly having to answer the question, “Are we leaving today?” This open-endedness can feel unsettling to a small child.
  • Pack portable, familiar comforts from home. For most children, trips are easier to enjoy when they have their favorite snacks, books, toys and transitional object such as a blanket or lovey.
  • Pack a bag with fun activities and games to help pass the time on long trips or in restaurants.
  • If possible travel with only a backpack so that you have both hands free for attending to your child.
  • Prepare your child for what will be new and different. A day or two before your trip use simple language and pictures (when possible) to discuss your trip with your child. Talk about who you will see, some of the activities you will do and where you will stay.child-215317_1920
  • Reassure your child by discussing what will be the same as at home when you are traveling. Vacations provide a much needed break from our daily routines, but this can be unsettling to toddlers and preschoolers who are comforted by predictability and repetition. Knowing what will remain the same will help manage your child’s reaction to the change. For example, let him know that you will all be together and that “you will still have your cheerios for breakfast”, “naptime in the afternoon (but some days in your stroller)” and “3 books before bed, just like at home.“ You may need to go over and expand on these familiar and reassuring routines more than once before you leave as well as during the trip.
  • Children are not always able to verbalize or identify what is hard for them and parents need to interpret certain behaviors as communications that something doesn’t feel right. Increased whining, clinginess or tantrums, change in sleep patterns, resisting transitions, and changes in eating habits can be signs that your child needs more support and attention during your trip. If she is having a hard time, you can tell her, “I know that trips can be hard and not always fun and I am going to help you”. Then slow things down and try to allow for more quiet time for your child to relax and recharge during these busy days.
  • Making adjustments or changes in routines so that your child feels comfortable during the trip is perfectly normal. Routines can be regained when you return home. There will be an adjustment period, but it will not be a permanent change. Remind your child that you will be returning home soon to what is familiar.

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