Wednesday, September 14, 2011

Traveling with kids: 5 travel problems & suggested solutions

How Does a Jet Plane Work? (How Does It Work?)The Noisy Airplane Ride [NOISY AIRPLANE RIDE -OS]
1. Fear of flying
Many kids suffer from this, and so do many adults. Kids usually don't try to deal with it by getting drunk, something I've seen some adults do. Instead they might cry, scream, refuse to sit down, or try to remove their seat belt.

Suggested solutions:
  • Read books about airplanes before you go, especially books that explain how planes work, what happens during a flight, and what is making the strange noises you'll hear on board. 
  • Talk to your child about the noises and the other things happening on board, before the flight and during the flight. That clunking noise is just the wheels going up or down. That roar is the engines as we rumble down the runway, getting up enough speed to fly. The wing is changing shape to help the plane fly better. And so on.
  • Bring comfort items like a blanket or stuffed animal, or you holding their hand or hugging them as best you can as the plane takes off.

More tips in my previous post Fear of flying: How to help an anxious child.

2. Your child won't eat on the plane
If you have a picky eater (I do), this can be a problem on a long flight because a hungry child is rarely a happy child. My daughter is extremely suspicious of any foods she hasn't seen or tasted before (unless it's candy, of course).

My best tip: I bring snacks along that I know she and my son will eat (granola bars, crackers, pretzels, raisins), and on board I do try to get them to eat something, even if it's just a bun, a piece of cheese or some veggies or fruit.

Another tip: Get your child to eat a good meal just before takeoff. You can do this at home, or if you arrive in good time at the airport you can go for a meal you know they'll like before your flight leaves. I let my daughter fill up on chicken nuggets and fries before our latest flight to Sweden: not the most nutritious meal ever, but reasonably filling. And after that at least I know she got some food in her before the plane takes off.

I do often wish the airlines would serve more kid-friendly meals on board. Some of my suggestions are included here: My take on a perfect kids' meal on board.

Taking it easy for a bit during a busy travel day can help kids unwind and avoid tantrums.

3. Travel-tantrums
In spite of what it might feel like at the time, a tantrum doesn't mean you're a bad parent or that you have a "bad" kid. Tired, hungry, bored kids who might also be scared and uncomfortable, or in actual distress from the pressure on board, and who are also in unfamiliar surroundings like airports and airplanes can make for spectacular tantrums.

My tips to avoid, defuse and handle tantrums:
  • Try to make for regular snack and drink breaks to make sure your child isn't too hungry or thirsty.
  • Also try to help them get to sleep on board, or at least take time for a snuggle: sitting down with a book, watching a movie, or just hugging and talking quietly to your child for a bit can help calm anxiety and head off trouble. 
  • Try to keep a sense of humor, for your child and yourself: break things up with silly songs and stories, making faces while waiting at the gate, playing games, bringing out a puppet, or some other activity that might make your child feel like giggling.

More tips in this post: 9 tips on how to handle tantrums on board and at the airport. 

4. Dealing with jet-lag
When I travel to Sweden with my kids, we deal with a 9 hour time difference. This is not always easy or fun, but in a few days the worst symptoms usually do pass and after a week, things are pretty much normal. My main tips are:
  • Try to stick to the new regular bedtime in your new time zone, as closely as you can, from the first day you arrive. Try to keep kids entertained if you have to, just to prod them to stay awake.
  • Eat before bedtime, or your body might decide that it's time to wake up in the middle of the night because you're just so darn hungry.
  • Try to make your bedroom as dark as possible so your kids believe you when you tell them it is the middle of the night, even if their bodies are telling them otherwise.
  • Short daytime naps can be your friend and allow kids that woke up really early (mine always do for the first few days) to stay up until it really is bedtime. Longer naps late in the day are more problematic I find, and can mess up the new bedtime routine. Kids are all different though, so I'm sure different strategies might work for other kids.
More tips here: Kids and jet lag, what it's like and 8 tips on how to deal with it.

5. Homesickness
If you're away from home for a long time, your child might really miss their home, their friends, and family members who are far away. Even if they're really enjoying a wonderful trip with you, they might still cry every night because they miss their bed, their best friend, or a stuffed animal they forgot to bring.

I don't think it's possible to completely avoid some homesickness while traveling, but there are some things I've found that can help your child deal with it. There are the usual phone calls, computer chatting and even video chats these days of course. Other things that can help your child process the sadness they might feel are:

  • Bringing photos of family and friends to look at and talk about.
  • Writing postcards and emails to friends and family.
  • Keeping a journal to show friends and family when you get back home: this can be a sort of scrapbook with pictures, photos, drawings, ticket stubs, and written text.
  • Talking about home and what daddy/grandma/best friend might be doing right then, and what you'll be doing when you get home.
More tips here: 7 ways to stay in touch and handle separation anxiety.

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