For some, traveling with kids ranks up there with a root canal. We've had our share of screaming babies who are inconsolable while stuck in the middle of traffic so I know how it feels to dread the trip. (To be honest, I am feeling that way about the long flight to China with my 4 year old!)
However, we also know that it doesn't have to be that way. Many behavioral issues that come up in the car can be partially alleviated by taking some time to prepare our kids for the ride.
In our family, we do not suspend our usual family rules of kindness and graciousness while we are traveling. Travel time is not a free-for-all. My husband has pulled off the freeway to deal with bad behavior. For us, training and discipleship continues, even as we travel. We literally disciple on the way!
Here are some of the other things we have done with our kids to help make our travel time as smooth as possible:
For Babies and Toddlers
- Don't strap your kids in the carseat until you have to. They'll be sitting long enough!
- Nurse and change your baby and take your little one to the toilet right before you leave. Then you know they have a full tummy and an empty bladder.
- Map out possible stopping points on your route beforehand so that we know where we can pull off if we need to. If we know that there is a long stretch between those points, we try to stop if they're awake and let them run around. Sometimes this helps head off those screaming meltdowns.
- With little ones, we need to realize that we are dragging them along where we're going. They have little or no say in it. The least we can do is to work with their limits as much as possible. Just plan on taking a lot longer and it will be less frustrating for everyone involved.
- Consider driving through the night if it works for you.
- Mom's Minivan has some great ideas for things you can do with babies and toddlers. Check it out!
For Preschoolers and Up
With older children, they are capable of understanding more so before we travel, especially if it is a long ride, we take some time to outline what is acceptable behavior in the car. This establishes a guideline from which to work. We do not allow whining, complaining, hitting, or otherwise bothering our siblings.
The temptation for us when they get older is to just let them play with video games or watch movies through the whole trip. While that may work, and we have utilized them, they are usually not our first resort but a reward for good behavior.
However, that means we need to be prepared with other options. We usually rotate from the following activities for half hour segments. Check out this post for more specifics!
- Snacks or meals
- Travel games and activities (you'll be amazed what a new pack of crayons can inspire!)
- Audio books or stories
- Video games or DVDs (including the iPad). We try to limit this to the last half of the trip.
- Outdoor activities, picnic lunches, etc.
- Don't forget music! Before leaving, let everyone pick a CD or make a playlist.
A Word About Teens
I remember that when I was a teenager, going on family vacation was the last place I wanted to be. It was easy to just tune out the rest of my family by putting on my Walkman (that dates me, doesn't it?). Now, as a parent of a teen myself, I have to work hard to include my teen as well. I will have to say, however, that if we do not engage our kids at home, don't expect them to engage with the family on vacation either. As much as possible, we try to include our kids in our planning so that they look forward to the trip too, not just look at it as their punishment.
With air travel, there are pros and cons. Even with cramped quarters, there may be pockets of time to walk around, meals are (sometimes) provided, and you can sleep if you want. However, you are stuck on the aircraft with nowhere to go should your child start screaming. Debbie from Delicious Baby has a great site if you're planning on flying with your kids this summer. I'll definitely be reading it!
One Last Word
Enjoy the journey. Let your kids be kids. Explore, rest and enjoy, don't just rush off to the next site. After all, it's vacation, right?
Planning Vacations for Multiple Ages from Simple Homeschool has great ideas. Let's face it, most families have kids that are varying ages, whether you homeschool or not.
Making Road Trips More Enjoyable from Life As Mom
Kid Clips for Road Trips from Less Than Perfect Life of Bliss gives an idea to try for discipline on the road.
Being Thoughtful Houseguests from Small Notebook. Don't forget that discipleship and training in thoughtfulness can happen even on vacation. Don't forget to train and prepare your kids to be great houseguests.