A particular pattern seems to play out on all of our family trips. The kids go bananas as soon as we are almost to our destination and take at least a day to calm down. Trying to maintain some discipline during this time seems to be key to having the rest of the trip go well. I am not a child psychologist but we have been traveling together as a family since my first was 9 months old. The kids are all still alive and we are still excited to take them places. So I will share with you what has worked for us. As with all childrearing advice if you have something that works for you then by all means keep doing it! And share that advice with everyone else in the comments section below.
1. It Starts at Home
The discipline method that will work best while traveling will be the same one used at home. So if you intend to travel then use a method that will work away from home as well, since 90% of parents report using talking, taking away a toy or time outs, most of you will probably be safe from reports to CPS by strangers in the airport. Try to be as consistent as possible. If you count or always give two warning or make them sit/stand, then do that consistently. Try to be consistent with the other caregivers as well. When you are in an airport it is not a good time to try something new or unfamiliar.
2. Stay Calm
This is probably my own biggest battle. Even at home, I can lose my cool and forget that I am the adult and not allowed to throw a fit. I am not aiming for cold hearted disciplinarian but I have yet to find that anything went better for us as a family after I lost my temper. While traveling, the kids will be more amped up and so will you. Take a few breaths and try to remain calm. If you have a partner then take a break by yourself even if it is just a bathroom stop. If you are on your own (then Heaven help you) use screens or distractions or paid breaks (nannies or childcare at your resort) to keep your sanity.
3. Energy Out
Helping them find positive ways to burn off energy will help. We have done a lot of walking and running around airports in this effort. If you are racing from one gate to another because of a close connection then pick them up and or toss them in the stroller but if you have the time, make them walk. Yes it is slow and you will like walking slowly much more then sitting at the gate with them crying, fidgeting, fighting or screaming. My husband and I often take turns walking them to see different things around the terminal to keep them focused and moving. You will have more time then you like sitting once you are on the plane. Try any of these ten activities if you airport stay is over long.
4. Meet the Needs
Kids (and Moms) need to eat regularly. Most of the time when my kids start throwing tantrums or misbehaving in extreme ways, I eventually figure out they are hungry, sick or tired. They are little narcissists but they also usually have a reason they are acting the way they are. Try to keep them fed. The airport will have some kid food but the airplane will not. Bring snacks and even meals for the little guys. Younger kids have a good chance at sleeping durning the flight so feed and go potty just before boarding. I also always carry some Motrin. Ear infections show up at the least opportune times and not having an analgesic can make for a long plane ride. I once offered an unopened bottle of ibuprofen to a bedraggled set of parents with a screaming toddler. I told them I was not overly bothered with the crying but I had the medicine and was willing to give it to them if they wanted it, which they were happy to take. Within 20 minutes the kid went form ear piercing screams to quiet then asleep.
Distract, distract, distract. We have tablets and phones (old ones that are no longer connected to a cell network) that we let the kids use during transit times. Our family policy is no screens allowed on vacation but they are permitted during transit. You can bring games, toys, books, travel journals or what ever your child likes. Kids love new toys. A trip to the dollar store for a handful of shiny new things will keep them pretty happy. Just pull out a new one when you need a fresh distraction. Some parents are even ambitious enough to wrap them individually.
6. Pick Your Battles
Getting everyone safely to your destination and then home again is the main goal. If you can accomplish this while not losing a child either on purpose or by accident you have done well. So, let a few things slide. I stress less about what the kids eat when we are traveling. We work on eating new things and call it “adventures,” but I do not bring the hammer down over eating vegetables. Keeping a routine with bed times and nap times can be soothing but being flexible will also be important. Before you you tell them to stop doing something be sure it is a battle you want to fight. Maybe let them crash the cars together for a while or bang that puzzle cube on the ground.
7. Follow Through
Somewhere before 2 years old my kids had me made about when I would and wouldn’t discipline them. There are times when it is not possible to stop and do a time out. There are not toys present and you are not able to give a lecture. They know this. I have definitely stopped the car and pulled a kid out to do a time out in a parking lot or at the side of the road (it was a country road with little traffic) but I have yet to convince an airline pilot pull over. So don’t hesitate to in the terminal or while stopped somewhere. There is a good chance of a turn around on behavior just because they got reminded that discipline is possible. If you are doing timeouts, find a place with fewer distractions, away from siblings and as far from a crowd as you can. At restaurants, I take them outside. At the airport, I take them to an empty gate.
You can do this parents! It is not much harder then at home and you get the reward of going on vacation with your little angels. Keep at it and let me know what works for you. This parenthood thing is an ever evolving art and we are all always learning.