You may experience holiday stress that's related to finances or family, but children and teens are prone to stress related to holiday travel. That's because they are out of their routine, they get bored easily, they may have a hard time with transitions, and they pick up the mood of their parents.
To reduce travel stress (for you and the kids), here are eight strategies:
1. Plan well. Take time to develop a detailed itinerary. Estimate how much time it will take, and think about how to fit in bathroom stops, food and snack stops, leg stretching, and fresh air breaks. Don't allow yourself to get lost, if driving. If flying and changing planes, schedule a two-hour layover. This gives kids a chance to regroup before the next flight.
2. Create smooth transitions. Some children have a hard time transitioning from home to car, or car to plane. Give them, especially young kids, a chance to wake up and settle down before you leave, and allow enough time that they get calm in their new surroundings (e.g., a train station or an airport) before moving to the next one. Likewise, don't schedule a big family dinner or get-together right after your arrive. Give the kids a chance to decompress and even unpack their familiar toys and things.
3. Pack in advance. Packing at the last minute starts the trip off in a state of stress and worry. Knowing that there's still time to go to the store and purchase something you forgot will go a long way to alleviating stress at the beginning of your trip.
4. Allow plenty of time. Kids are unpredictable. You can't predict when a child will get carsick or stir crazy--not to mention unexpected vehicle problems or travel delays that pop up. If you travel with the attitude that "there's plenty of time, not to worry," your kids will be more relaxed--and so will you.
5. Make a plan for getting separated. Your children should know where and how to go for help if they get lost or separated from you. You can also print out a card with your cell number and name and attach it to your child's top, or hang it around his neck.
6. Provide entertainment. Invest in a movie player. It's well worth the money on long trips. Also, cards, puzzles, small games, travel games, art supplies, and reading material are a must. Go to your local "parent teacher" story for unusual educational games and miniature activities (mini magnetic checkers, e.g.) for travel. Tiny containers of brightly colored Play-Doh keep older and younger kids entertained for hours.
7. Change your attitude. If you dislike traveling, so will your children. If you're impatient, cranky, or stressed out, they'll pick up on your mood and reflect it right back to you.
8. Keep 'em guessing. Spontaneous rest stops, interesting detours, surprise treats, scenic hikes--all of these are good ways to break up a long trip if traveling by car.
David Swanson, Psy.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist who specializes in children and teens, and author of Help! My Kid Is Driving Me Crazy: The 17 Ways Kids Manipulate Their Parents and What You Can Do About It (Perigee, Sept. 2009). You can learn more at www.DrDavidSwanson.com.
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