Preparing Kids for Travel

We are on our way to the Happiest Place on Earth! Our whole family could not be more excited.  This is not our first rodeo traveling with a little. There was that whole cross the entire country, 24 hours of flying and traveling with a 5-month-old who didn’t know us thing when we brought Kai home. When Kai was 14 months old, we went to San Francisco, then at 2 years old our first trip to Disney, and now we are at it again.

I see this all the time in mom groups, moms asking if it is worth it to travel with toddlers and how to do it. To me the answer is always a resounding yes, it is worth it to travel with your kids, no matter what age. The experience your kids get while traveling and the more exposure they receive at a young age, the better.

Of course, there are tons of tricks and tips for moms about how to travel with kids, like what items to take, tips on the plane, that kind of thing, but this is not that blog. All of those things are necessary and great and I will give mine closer to the time to our trip, but I learned after our last trip to Disney that there is just as much value, if not more, for you to prepare your toddler. If you prepare the toddler, then all those other things will fall into place.

To do this I’ve used my favorite tool in my parenting with connection tool belt: Practicing Outside of the Moment. As fun as our last trip was, we still had our issues. I know if I had done this last time, it would have gone even smoother. This time, we know to 1) adjust our expectations and 2) practice.

So, what is Practicing Outside of the Moment? Glad you asked. It is what it sounds like, but the key is doing it playfully. Say your child is struggling with a particular transition or goal or expectation. It seems to always end in a battle, frustration, stress, and tears for both of you. This tool helps you and your child overcome that together. Nothing is getting done when you are both stressed and flustered. Your child’s brain is in overload and does not understand, nor is it able to accept what you are trying to get them to do in that moment, and you likely are not being very connected because you are frustrated and possibly in a place where everyone is looking at you, so you aren’t being yourself. The point is to work on this goal outside of when you need them to do it, and doing it together as a team and connecting through play. You essentially are making new pathways in the brain, so that when the time does come to do it for real, you and your child remember how to do it together without a fight because you’ve already practiced. I love this tool because it does so many things.

  1. It gives the child expectations: Practicing will naturally teach them what you expect of them for that specific situation, without it being hammered into them in a time where you are both frustrated and stressed. So as we have “practiced,” Kai now knows the drill in going through the security lines at the airport. He knows he has to stick with mom and dad, he can’t touch things, we have to follow airport security rules, we will have to wait our turn in line.
  2. It prepares the child for what is coming: If you have a child who is anxious about “what comes next,” or struggles because of sensory issues or other special needs, I cannot tell you how huge this will be for your family. Now obviously, you can’t control everything; things will not always go exactly how you practiced, but it will still give them a good grasp on what will happen and what they are expected to do.
  3. You get to practice as a parent. 95% of the time when an issue arises, we are programmed to be reactive. When we react, they react, and it is just an ugly, vicious cycle. When you come at it proactively, you lessen your chance for that cycle and lack of connection. You as a parent get to practice playfully and in a fun way those first 2 things. You get to practice your responses when an expectation is forgotten or a when a plan gets thrown out of whack. So your brain and body will remember how to do it correctly in those times, to calmly connect with your child and meet them where they are in that moment, verses reacting and possibly “flipping your lid”.

So this is what Practicing Outside of the Moment has looked like for us for Disney World: we simply play Disney World! What is cool about this, parents, is if you look and recognize opportunities, your child will actually lead the charge in this thing. I hadn’t thought about it until a few months ago Kai said “can we pretend to go to Disney?” And a light bulb went off. This was an opportunity to practice outside of the moment. So I enthusiastically said yes and we went through the process. We grabbed our suitcases, we pretended to drive to the airport, we checked in, we went through the security lines, we practiced going through the “scanner,” getting our bags, walking to our gate, waiting to get on the airplane, flying to Disney, getting our bags, riding the Magical Express Bus, checking in to our hotel, then getting on a bus to go to Magic Kingdom.

Then we pretend to go to Magic Kingdom and we walk down Main Street. Something that was really difficult  for Kai last time was meeting the characters. They were big and everyone was yelling at him to look and smile and it was just overwhelming. So this time, we practiced, and we even practiced our plans getting interrupted. Sometimes you just see characters when you are on your way to something and you stop and get in line. That threw Kai for a loop last time. So as we are walking to the Buzz Lightyear Ride, “Oh look! There’s Pluto! Let’s go give him a hug and say hi!” So we walk and pretend to wait in line.  We give him the expectation that he can’t touch Pluto’s nose, just give him a hug or high five. Then we practice being still and saying “cheese” for a picture, then move on. There have been times I have “interrupted” 2-3 times and we’ve gotten to practice what we do when we are frustrated. This again, gives another opportunity for you to be a prepared parent. When you start to see the lid flipping, bring it back down as fast as possible in a calm, connected way. Practice your response. Come up with some things you can do together. It could be as simple as getting down on their level and helping them take some deep breaths, pulling them into your lap for a back rub. For older kids it might just be taking a walk away from the noise for minute or squeezing a stress ball. I have noticed that when I don’t have a plan and haven’t practiced or thought through a response, I am much more likely to dole out unrealistic consequences that don’t fit the “crime” or empty threats that only make things worse. It can be avoided. Not saying you will be perfect all of the time, but it can be avoided when you have a plan and practice together, and your child will know and have an expectation of how you are to do it together.

You get the picture, right? It’s all done in play. Another thing we have done to prepare is look at pictures from our last trip. If you are traveling and you’ve never been there before, pull up some pictures or videos of things you plan to do! Involve your kids. It will be so much better for all of you if you do.

This tool can be applied for lots of things other than travel, but it’s been our best preparation. I encourage you to try it with your kids, it should be playful and fun for everyone!

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