For many of us, the holidays mean traveling to visit loved ones or heading to a new destination for a family vacation. If your holiday plans will include planes, trains or automobiles, read on for a few tips to help your toddler (and you!) enjoy the journey...
Read, read, read! Books with lift-the-flap features and various textures are a great option and will hold your child’s interest for some time. So will books with lots of details and hidden illustrations (Richard Scarry’s Cars and Trucks and Things that Go is a perennial favorite. Find Goldbug on every page!). Also consider packing books that might prepare your child for new climates or experiences they will encounter on your trip (for example, Ezra Jack Keats' classic winter tale, The Snowy Day).
Play! Try to introduce different toys and activities gradually on your trip, rather than all at once. Some parents find it helpful to present a new activity on an hourly basis to add an element of excitement and anticipation. A few great options for little ones on long flights:
- Finger puppets! Easy to pack and encourage imaginative, interactive play.
- Snacks can serve double duty as toys! Have your child practice her fine-motor skills by threading Cheerio’s onto yarn (or chenille sticks and larger round cereal for smaller hands) or see how many crackers she can stack on her tray table before they topple.
- Dig into your memory bank and play old-school road trip games! I-Spy can be a great way to practice identifying colors and shapes and keep toddlers engaged! Remember an engaged child is a happy child!
- Other great ideas located on our blog 5 Toddler Friendly Airplane Activities (Screen-Time Free!)
Get your wiggles out! Obviously, it can be challenging to give your child opportunities to move on flights or long car trips. When possible, help your child walk down the aisle of the plane to stretch her legs. Some basic stretches that can be performed while seated can also help your wiggly child feel more comfortable--"Head, Shoulders, Knees and Toes" can be performed while sitting! During layovers, look for a less-trafficked area of the airport and do some jumping jacks, "Ring-a-Round the Rosie" or "Motor Boat". On road trips, plan for regular rest stops for everyone to get some fresh air and exercise. Utilize apps, such as Trekaroo, to find playgrounds and kid-friendly venues along the way.
Show and Tell: get ready to see the relatives! Will your child be spending a lot of time with relatives he rarely sees? Talk to your child about who you’ll be visiting. Bring along photos and tell your child tidbits that they might enjoy (Aunt Kate has a new puppy we can meet; Grandpa Joe makes the best pancakes; Cousin Leah can do cartwheels!). This will drum up excitement for seeing relatives and help break the ice upon arrival.
Preserve routines when possible. While traveling can be an exciting adventure, the stimulation and disruptions to routine can also be very disorienting and stressful to children. Whenever possible, try to maintain the structure to which your child is accustomed. This is especially important at bedtime: help your child relax in an unfamiliar environment by following the same pre-bed routine, playing the same bedtime sounds (try apps like Sleep Pillow for white noise on-the-go), and, of course, remembering to pack your child’s beloved comfort objects!
Keep calm and travel on. Traveling during the holidays can be especially trying, with crowded airports, flight delays, and emotions running high. Remember that your child is very attuned to your emotional state and will likely mirror your emotions, for better or for worse. Practice self-care and model self-soothing (deep breaths!) to your child during times of stress. When the journey feels endless, remind yourself, “This too shall pass.”
Leave room for silliness! Nothing resets a tense moment like a giggle. Put on temporary tattoos (or stamps or stickers). Surprise your child mid-flight by putting on a fake mustache. Pack a compact mirror and practice making your funniest faces. Bring a balloon and bubbles for hours of "trapped in a hotel room with no toys" kind of fun! Learn a few new kid-friendly jokes to debut during your travels. In the words of Dr. Seuss, “These things are fun and fun is good.”