Vacation is the time to chuck the alarm clock and strike out for unfamiliar territory. But your daily grind is your child's security. He thrives on predictability, on knowing what's next. Take away his routine and he's liable to start whining, crying, and clinging. When traveling with a young child, you're better off adjusting your expectations to fit your child's limitations and personality. Here are some ways to be more understanding and kid-focused.
What to do:
- Plan ahead. Along with your child, read books and watch videos about the places you'll see. Show pictures of family or friends you'll be visiting. Talk about how you'll reach your destination -- plane , train, or car -- and how long it will take to get there.
- Do as the locals do. If you're changing time zones, try to adapt as quickly as possible. Eat when the locals eat, for instance, even if it means having a dinner of meat and vegetables at what might still feel like morning to your child. Also, try putting your child to bed just the way you would at home. He might need an extra bedtime story or two for a couple of nights, but he'll soon adjust.
- Follow familiar routines. Once you've reached your destination, spend plenty of quiet time with your child to put him at ease. And stick to your usual bedtime and mealtime rituals to give him the strongest sense of security.
- Take along your child's favorite blanket, stuffed animal, or other comfort object. In fact, take two, in case the first one is lost. That way you won't spend precious vacation time searching for a replacement.
- Schedule plenty of kid-friendly activities. Museum tours and fancy dinners might be your cup of tea, but most young children will be bored. And they'll let you know it -- along with everyone else within earshot. Keep adult activities short, and alternate with kid stops. Or trade off with your spouse: One of you might go shopping while the other plays with the kids at the park, then swap.
- Keep meals simple. Forget restaurants that offer exotic fare unless you're sure they'll have a few things your child will enjoy. Even Grandma's macaroni and cheese may be met with tears if it's not what your child is used to. Eating regular, low-fat meals and drinking plenty of fluids will also help your child avoid constipation, a common complaint with travelers. If you're traveling overseas, drink only boiled water or bottled spring water, cook and rinse all vegetables, and peel all fruits to stave off diarrhea.
- Prepare your child. If you're planning to leave him with friends or relatives while you take a side trip, plan it late in your visit so your kid has a chance to get to know his caregivers and is comfortable in the new surroundings.
If you focus on showing your child a good time rather than squeezing in one more sight or visiting with one more set of relatives, chances are you'll have a great time, and you'll all look forward to the next vacation.
Robert H. Pantell M.D., James F. Fries M.D., Donald M. Vickery M.D., Taking Care of Your Child: A Parent's Illustrated Guide to Complete Medical Care. Perseus Books Publishing, L.L.C.
The Penny Whistle Traveling With Kids Book : Whether by Boat, Train, Car, or Plane- How to Take the Best Trip Ever With Kids of All Ages, Meredith Brokaw, Fireside.
The American Red Cross First Aid and Safety Handbook, Kathleen Handal, MD, Little Brown &Co.