August often signifies when many families embark on their final travel hurrah before the school year starts. Most of us love the change of scene, but some kids find travel challenging. Even though it's been five years since my husband and I brought our children home from Russia, they still need reassurance that we're coming back to our same old house whenever we go away. In general, children who remember being adopted, have moved recently because of a divorce or loss, have lived in multiple foster homes, or simply struggle with transition and change can find travel stressful. Here are some steps all families can take to help ease anxiety so kids can appreciate the pleasures of travel.
BEFORE YOU GO:
1. Offer facts. Before your trip, share books or videos about your destination or mode of travel. If your kids are like mine, they'll feel calmer if they rely on facts instead of their big imaginations.
2. Count it down. Help your child count down to the trip with a calendar. Pointing out your departure and return dates will reinforce that your relocation is temporary. Little ones often like to mark the dates with stickers or crayons.
3. Work together. Take the mystery out of preparations by sharing age-appropriate tasks with your kids. Get the luggage out of the attic together, make packing lists together, clean out the fridge together, board the dog together.
4. Consider coordinating. If you can, have your entire family use similar luggage as a visual reminder that you're a "team." Our kids loved choosing the colors for their giant wheeled duffel bags, and they love even more that we have matching toiletry kits.
5. Lead when packing. Have the adult(s) in your family pack their own suitcases first to give anxious kids reassurance that you're going with them. I've sometimes even let my kids help me pack, for instance counting out pairs of socks.
6. Prep for your return. Plan some fun events or activities for after you return. You can talk about them during your trip to give your child something to look forward to, and to remind him or her that you'll return.
ON THE ROAD:
7. Take comfort in familiarity. If your kids haven't traveled in a while, visit a familiar place for your first trip, and make it just one night so no-one suffers too much from lost sleep. For a while, my family did an annual Memorial Day overnight before our long summer trip, to help our kids remember what "vacation" means.
8. Be consistent. Some kids -- like my son -- need to test that family rules still apply when you're in a different place. Remind your child before and during your trip that they do. If your child misbehaves, use the discipline you always do. If there's a lot of acting out, consider that your child might actually be seeking discipline because of the security it provides. In that case, see whether there's some other way you can provide consistency, such as keeping the same bedtime.
9. Encourage sharing. While traveling, encourage your child to send letters or postcards. If you allow access to email, the swift response can comfort kids -- like my daughter -- who fear disconnection from home. Even keeping a journal can help.
10. Capture footage. Finally, take pictures on the trip as reminders for next year that traveling as a family can be fun. We sometimes make photo books, and our kids love to look through them before we travel again.
It can be a comforting revelation for a child that vacationing away from home means coming back. Have a great trip! And if you have other great travel tips to share, feel free to do so in the comments below!
Image credit: FreeDigitalPhotos.net