Tips for Traveling with Young Children During the Holidays

Tips for Traveling with Young Children During the Holidays

By Carri Hill PhD, Pia Todras PsyD and Barbara Danis PhD

The holiday season is upon us, and for many families that means time to hit the road! Regardless of the mode of transportation --car, train or plane-- traveling with young children can be challenging for the entire family. Even the most well-behaved child may have difficulty managing his behaviors and emotions during this time of year. Planning ahead increases the likelihood that the trip will go smoothly. 

One of the most important things to plan is how to keep your child occupied. This requires having a wide variety of items available. Include some of your child’s favorite toys as well as some novel activities that are “saved” for this occasion. Books and art materials are other good activities to bring. Keep the activities in a light-weight bag, backpack or small plastic bin for car travel.

  • Depending on the age of the child, taking photos with a digital camera can be a fun way of keeping them engaged and interested in the trip. Avoid noisy toys if you can, as you are likely to get tired of the noise and it can be distracting to others if you are traveling by plane or train. Also, while electronics (e.g., smart phones, handheld games, videos) are an easy way to occupy children’s time, sometimes the fun of travel is that everyone can “unplug” and spend time together. Consider alternatives to screen time or perhaps using screen time as a “reward” for good behavior.
  • Bring snacks!  Have favorite snacks that you can count on as well as some fun snacks that your child helps you pick out for the trip.
  • Games like I Spy, 20 questions, Guess What Number I'm Thinking or the ABC game (find words that start with each letter of the alphabet) are ways to engage children when they become bored.
  • Carry a deck of cards and/or paper and pencil to play tic-tac-toe, the dot game, or hangman.
  • Young children do better with predictability. Your child should know the schedule. A picture schedule on a calendar is one way to help children visualize the schedule. Previewing the schedule each day and provide frequent reminders of “what’s coming next.” With older children, let them help you plan the trip, taking into account the types of activities they might want to do.
  • Be aware of your child’s limits. Know the extent to which your child can tolerate change in eating and sleeping schedules. Some children are easy going and can manage changes in their routine well. Other children may have a difficult time regulating their emotions and behaviors when faced with a new routine. Use what you know about your child to determine how long the time in the car, sightseeing, etc. is before the child needs play time or a snack.
  • Lastly, choose your battles. Traveling to see relatives can result in difficulty enforcing rules (e.g., Grandma lets your kids eat as many sweets as they want). Decide which rules are important and need enforcing and which ones can be relaxed for the short period of time you are traveling. You can let your child know what the “rules” are on vacation and how they might be different from the usual rules.

Disruptive behaviors in children can be challenging to manage and affect each member of a family; they often interfere with a child’s social, emotional and educational development—at home, in school and in public.

Designed to address the needs of families who are experiencing difficulty in managing their child’s behavior or who are concerned with his or her emotional or behavioral regulation, JCFS Chicago offers specialized treatment for children aged 2 to 12 years old.