My girlfriend messaged me and said, “Michelle, why don’t you use video clips on your Instagram story of your other kids, instead of the one who wants to go home?” I laughed and replied,“Well, that’s my real life!” I have three kids. Two of whom LOVE to travel like their Momma and one who isn’t keen on change. He does enjoy it and he does have fun but it’s more work for him. As he’s gotten older he’s able to communicate his fears and concerns a bit more which makes managing it a lot easier. We recently visited Punta Cana for a fun family vacation. I figured if I have a kid who struggles with change (and travel) then someone else probably does too, so I wanted to share what works for us in helping to make travel more enjoyable for him and for us. Note: For the record this is purely Mom advice. If you have a child with serious anxiety or other underlying issues, I recommend seeking professional advice. Also, we apply these “steps” with all of our kids.
How To Travel With A Kid Who’d Rather Stay Home
1. Communicate the plan, as far in advance as possible and with as many details as possible.
For my anxious guy, knowing the plan is a big part of managing his fears. If he knows it’s going to take two hours to get to the airport and another four hours before we board the plane and then four and half hours in the air etc. etc. he can feel prepared. Also, it’s important to communicate what MIGHT happen, for example, delays. **and be mindful of what details you share. Make them age appropriate. Some readers have shared with me that too much detail or too much time to think about something is actually a trigger for their anxious child. It’s important to do what works for your child and their personality!
2. Let them be a part of packing and planning.
For us, including my son in the process of travel really helps him feel in control. So often, when dealing with kids and anxiety, feeling in control is a big part of managing it.
3. Give lots of warnings and countdowns and plans for the day.
Kids with anxiety like a PLAN. They wanna know what they are doing and when! That’s why travel is a catch 22 because it can often be spontaneous and unplanned.
4. Give extra attention at bedtime.
Nighttime was always a homesick-feeling time for my guy so one of us would lay with him and reassure him that we were there and in no time at all we would all be home safely!
5. Don’t dismiss their feelings.
Telling someone to “get over it” isn’t really helpful. Empathizing with a balance of encouragement (sometimes it feels more like pushing) is important because the thing is, kids with anxiety won’t ever get over the fear if they don’t try it and they usually need serious motivation to try something new.
6. Celebrate when they “did it”!
We make light of it in our family, for example our son will complain and resist like crazy to try something new but so often when he does it he LOVES it. We make an effort to point that out to him and remind him how capable he is.
7. Ask WHY?
This isn’t as easy as it sounds, sometimes kids and even adults can’t articulate why they are fearful or reluctant, but they can usually communicate something that helps you walk them through it. One tactic we have learned is going through “What’s the worst that can happen?” Role playing these scenarios often helps. Yes they may say the plane might crash or something you are unsure on how to answer but we often tell him, “It is our job as your parents to keep you safe and do the worrying, not yours.” In terms of plane crashes, stats are helpful, because the risk is far less than a car accident.
8. Lastly, don’t plan your family vacation during hockey playoffs 😉
Of course we didn’t know that, our guy was soooo bummed that he missed his teams final playoff games. The silver lining was, a few of the other team mates were also on vacation which proved that his family was not out to sabotage him. It was an honest scheduling mishap that no one could have predicted.
We did have a great time, and honestly I think sometimes the complaining is simply “habit” more than genuine fear. We try hard not to feed the negative chatter and move on. If you have any tips or stories about helping kids who aren’t keen to travel that you think will help others please let me know! I’d love to hear them and share with everyone! Happy travels! MF