How Do You Survive Travel With A Toddler?
Holiday travel is just around the corner and parents of young children are already dreading the long drive, flight, train or bus ride coming up soon.
Having just completed four - yes I said four - 5-hour car rides with my 26-month-old granddaughter in less than a week - yes I said less than a week - I totally understand the dread.
My granddaughter Almalou is an incredibly good-natured and adaptable human (she has traveled to 6 countries before her first birthday) but our recent travel schedule was a bit much, even for her. That said, most of our travel was pleasant and even fun, but that was the result of a lot of planning and anticipation on the part of Almalou's mother, my daughter Mia.
Like all parents, Mia doesn’t always get it right, but when it comes to traveling with a toddler, she is really a pro. As a parent, showing up is the most important thing. Hanging in for the meltdowns and grinning and bearing it is essential too. However, to really be effective, a parent must think in advance what the situation will demand of their child and of them.
To do this, there are some important things to remember. First of all, know your child. Keep in mind their eating and sleeping patterns and try to accommodate them during travel times as best you can - I know - not always possible. Even the best-laid plans can go awry due to traffic jams, delayed or canceled flights or just a perfect storm of hunger, fatigue, and cabin (car seat) fever.
Packing snacks, especially something new like “Pirate Booty” and meals for the road, however, will go a long way to keeping a toddler happy. If you know that naps on the road will be nearly impossible, make sure a child has had a good night’s sleep.
If your child has favorite toys and books, think about taking them out of rotation a week or so before travel, so when they are pulled out on the trip, the child is excited and will engage longer with them, like catching up with an old friend. If your budget allows, pick up one or two new small toys that will capture your child’s imagination: small figures of people and animals, matchbox cars and finger puppets come to mind. If your child has a favorite stuffed animal and you have the room to bring it, that will be a great addition.
Simple art supplies like a small blank tablet and crayons can entertain and having a great playlist: upbeat music for clapping and singing, and lullabies for calming are a must. Story tapes work wonders as well.
Any modern parent will note the glaring omission of screentime or digital media suggestions from this post. I take my cues from the American Academy of Pediatrics when it comes to children and screens, and their recommendation discourages screentime except for video chatting with family and friends for children under 18 months old. Children that are 18 to 24 months should only be exposed to quality programming that is viewed with an adult so that that content can be shared and explained. And for children ages 2 to 5 it should be limited to one hour per day, again with a recommendation that parents view and interpret what children are watching.
A recent New York Times article, Silicon Valley Nannies Are Phone Police for Kids, highlights the panic that has set in by the very people involved in the digital media industry. The current trend is for their young children to have zero screen time and no technical experience. Moreover, they are enlisting their children’s caregivers to help make that happen. Whether avoiding screens altogether or limiting their use, travel time is an opportunity to introduce other enjoyable toys and activities for your child to interact with and be entertained by.
Finally, make sure that you are taking care of yourself as well. The holidays, as wonderful as they can be, also make our already demanding lives even more hectic. Rest is as imperative for you as it is for your child, so be sure to make time for some rest and relaxation before the holiday overload begins … and try to build in some special travel treats for you too!