For most adults, vacation traveling is a change of pace, scenery, and routine when cares of home are abandoned for the free and easy life. For many preschoolers, however, traveling is anything but vacation. Young ones thrive on the sense of security offered by familiar toys, beds, and foods, so try to prevent needing another vacation away from your child by making sure your preschooler knows that some of his favorite things (toys, blankets, clothes) will be near and that he’ll be included in the fun. The comforts of home are often absent when you’re traveling, so teach your child how to cope with change and how to enjoy new experiences. These tasks can be made easier if you have a happy, interested pupil who feels secure in his new surroundings.
Note: Remember that children who are not buckled in safely will create a dangerous distraction for the driver. If the car stops suddenly, they will continue to travel forward at the same rate of speed the car was going. They will hit anything in their path such as the dashboard, the windshield, or the back of the front seat with an impact equivalent to a one-story drop onto concrete for each ten miles per hour the car is traveling. Even though the dashboard and back of the front seat may be padded, hitting them from three to seven stories up (the impact you would have at speeds ranging from thirty to seventy miles per hour) could still be fatal. In addition, young children should never ride in the front seat of the car, even if restrained in car seats or seat belts. Always buckle them safely in the back seat in approved safety seats or booster seats.
Check the car seat or seat restraints before traveling
The safety measures you take before leaving will determine how relaxed you are with your children when you finally depart. Don’t wait until the last minute to find out you must delay your trip because you lack an essential item: the safety seat.
Practice the rule
Before you and your child leave on a long-distance car trip, take a few dry runs so your child can graduate from basic training to the real thing. Praise proper sitting in the car seat or seat belts during practice time, to show your child that staying in his car seat produces rewards.
Make car rules
Institute the rule that the car moves only when everyone is buckled in. Say, “I’m sorry your belt is not buckled. The car can’t move until you’re safely buckled in.” Be prepared to wait until the passengers comply with your rule before you go.
Provide appropriate play materials
Make sure you pack toys that are harmless to clothing and upholstery. Crayons are okay, but felt-tip pens are discouraged because they may permanently mark clothing and upholstery. If you’re taking public transportation, provide activities that are quiet, usable in controlled spaces, and capable of holding your child’s attention for long periods of time.
Familiarize your child with your travel plans
Discuss your travel plans with your child so he’ll know how long you’ll be gone, what will happen to his room while you’re away, and when you’ll return. Show him maps and photos of your destination. Talk to him about the people, scenery, and events you’ll experience. Share personal stories and souvenirs from previous visits to the destination. If your child is anxious about going to an unknown place, compare the destination to one he’s familiar with.
Personally involve your child traveler
Allow your child to participate in the preparation and execution of the trip. Enlist his help in packing his clothing, selecting carryon toys, carrying a tote bag, staying close in the terminal, and so on.
Establish rules of conduct for traveling
Before you leave, explain to your child any special rules of the road. For example, you might establish a noise rule, an exploring rule, a pool rule, and a restaurant rule for stops along the way.
Solving the Problem
What to Do
Praise good behavior
Frequently praise good behavior and provide rewards for staying in car seats. For example, say, “I like the way you’re looking at all the trees and houses. It’s really a pretty day. We can get out soon and play in the park because you’ve been sitting in your car seat so nicely.”
Stop the car if your child gets out of his car seat or unbuckles his safety belt
Make sure your child realizes that your car seat rule will be strictly enforced, and that the consequences will be the same every time the rule is violated.
Play car games
Count objects, recognize colors, look for animals, and so on, to keep your child entertained. Make a list of fun things to do before you leave home. Switch games as needed, to maintain your child’s (and your) interest.
Make frequent rest stops
Your restless preschooler is usually happiest when he’s mobile. Restraining him for hours in a car, plane, or train does not suit his adventurous spirit. Give him time to let off steam in a roadside park or rest stop, or you’ll find him rebelling when you least desire it.
Monitor snacks on long trips
Highly sugared or carbonated foods may not only increase a child’s activity level, they may also increase the chance of nausea. Stick to protein snacks or lightly salted ones to keep him healthy and happy
Use Grandma’s Rule-Let your child know that good behavior on trips brings rewards. For example, if your child has been whining about getting a drink, say, “When you’ve sat in your seat and talked with us without whining, then we’ll stop and get something to drink.”
What Not to Do
Don’t let young children sit in the front seat
No matter how much they fuss and beg to sit next to mommy or daddy in the front seat, young children should never be allowed to sit there, even on the shortest of trips. The safest place for preschoolers is buckled safely in a car seat or booster seat in the back, regardless of the type of air bag.
Don’t make promises you may not fulfill
Don’t be too specific about what your child will see on your travels, because he might hold you to it. For example, if you say you’ll see a bear in Yellowstone Park and you don’t, you might hear whining such as, “But you promised I’d see a bear” when you leave the park.
Traveling is anything but vacation for many preschoolers. The comforts of home are often absent when you’re traveling and children do not enjoy the new atmosphere like the adults. Use the above suggestions to help your child cope and enjoy new experiences when traveling on vacation.