Photo by US State Department courtesy CC user Liftarn on Wikimedia Commons
Family holidays can be a lot of fun. There’s the anticipation and excitement of going to a new place and exploring sights and sounds that you’ve never experienced before. To make it even better, you get to take your children with you, and you can have fun discovering all the hidden treasures a new location has to offer.
Unfortunately, some children do not travel well. The thought of traveling, either by plane or by road, for a long period of time, simply terrifies them. Flying can be especially scary for smaller children, who can easily get frightened by the large crowds in airports, as well as the loud strange noises on a plane. If your child suffers from travel anxiety, you know first-hand how stressful and draining it can be for both of you. Traveling can turn your normally serene child into an agitated, fussy, screaming and struggling bundle and this can quickly wear you out.
Sometimes, travel anxiety can catch you unawares. Your child might have been a fantastic traveler previously and only recently became fussier about it. It happens. In spite of all your holiday preparations, travel sickness and anxiety is the one thing you can never predict. The best thing you can do is to have a plan on how to handle the situation should it ever arise.
Here are some tips on how to help children overcome travel anxiety:
Talk about it
Fear of the unknown can be overwhelming for a young child. Talking to them about the trip ahead and what will happen might ease their anxiety. If you are taking a flight, start a fun discussion on planes and how they work. Try to prepare your child by reading books or showing them movies about planes, to prepare them for the trip.
The same applies to a road trip. Discuss the trip with your child and tell them about all the interesting things you’re likely to see on the way. This way, the trip, strange surroundings, sights and sounds won’t come as a complete surprise and they will be able to relax and enjoy it.
Comfort the child
The best way to calm a child down is by comforting them. Once you board the plane, your child might start struggling or crying. You should do everything you can to calm them down and this might include hugging or holding them, singing a song or constantly reassuring them that you’re there and everything is going to be fine. Sometimes, all the child needs is the physical reassurance of your presence.
Learn how to distract them
Parents everywhere will tell you how valuable toys are in distracting their fussy children. The choice of toys, of course, depends on the individual child. When packing for the trip, ensure you include a couple of their favorite toys to bring along with you. Something as simple as fun, rolling kid’s luggage can help increase their excitement and turn the trip from an ordeal into something more enjoyable. Consider packing your child’s toys or clothes in kid’s luggage that looks like cute animals and have them roll it themselves, to help them feel useful during the trip.
Alternatively, you could distract them from their anxiety, using movies or music. Planes these days have inboard movies specifically geared towards children, so ask the flight attendants to show you some. The attendants are also experienced in dealing with anxious children and might have play packages that can help distract them. You can never be certain that these will be provided, so always pack your child’s beloved books or carry their favorite songs on an iPod to use during a trip.
In certain cases, a child’s travel sickness might have an underlying cause, such as hypoglycemia. It might be a good idea to take your child for a checkup prior to a major trip, to get any medical issues out of the way. For example, an ear infection or stomach trouble can worsen your child’s reaction to a trip, and a dose of medication can be of great help. Sometimes doctors can prescribe medicine to help your child calm down during the trip. Parents often have mixed feelings about this, so rely on your discretion to decide whether this is something you want to do.
Traveling with an agitated, wailing child can test the patience of any parent. During such times, it is important to keep calm yourself while reassuring your child. This might not always be easy to do but it helps to know that children often outgrow their travel anxiety. Most even calm down as the excitement of traveling takes over. The best strategy is to be prepared and to keep in mind that the anxiety will soon pass when you arrive at your destination.