What To Do When Taking Your Toddler on Holiday
So you’ve gone and done it…you’ve booked a holiday with your family. And your family happens to include a toddler, or maybe two? You’ve been on holiday before, but never with your tantrum toddler. You must be crazy to plan to put a small child (or two?) on an airplane and travel for 14 hours to a hot, sunny destination. You’re probably thinking, “it’ll be worth it when we get there.” And it will be. You just need to be prepared.
This isn’t a list of things to do to prepare yourself for travel on holiday: this is a list of things to do to prepare your toddler for travel on holiday. You’ll do all the things lots of other articles will tell you to do: make a list, check it twice, pack toys, games, take blankets, snacks. Those lists are no-brainers and available at the touch of a button on Pinterest and any parenting website you can find in a Google search. No, this article isn’t about that kind of preparation. It’s about getting your toddler ready for departure!
It probably seems like most children would be excited to get in the car and drive for hours on end, or fly in an airplane for the first time…but not all children will find this experience exhilarating. Your childhood memories of holidays with your family will not be the same as your child’s memories. Don’t try to recreate those experiences for your children. Try to make new ones, and have realistic expectations of how your toddler will react to things.
Once you know where you are going and how you are going to get there, start preparing your toddler for the trip. If you are taking an airplane, make the drive to the local airport. Have lunch there. Explain to your child that you will be there soon as a family getting ready to get on a big airplane. Take your toddler to a window in the airport and show them the airplanes through the observation deck. Walk around the airport for a while, looking in shops, taking in the sites. This will help your child see that there are lots of people there and lots of things happening. It is important for some children to be mentally prepared for big events, especially if your child has a history of getting upset or experiences anxiety in crowds. You can make it a weekly ritual until you take off: lunch at the airport once a week.
If you are taking a road trip, put your toddler in the car and head out on the road for a few hours. Pack a little lunch and practice organizing their space so they can reach what they need and you can reach what you need. Sounds silly but there is nothing worse than rolling down the highway and having to pull off the road to grab a lost toy. Believe me, you will pull over to grab that toy…your sanity may depend on it! Explain to your child that they will be in the car for a long time and that they need to communicate to you if they need anything or want anything…like a bathroom break!
Probably the most important thing to do in preparing to take your toddler on holiday is to have a conversation with them about what you will be doing and give them an idea of the kinds of activities you’ll be doing, so they can start to look forward to the trip as well. Have them help dig out suitcases and gather clothes, and do a dry run of packing the car to ensure everything will fit. Taking the time to let your child play and experience a road trip or space at the airport will make it less overwhelming when the day actually comes and they will know what to expect. Encourage them to ask questions, but don’t be disappointed if they don’t. Kids just don’t know what they don’t know.
Running through the motions in advance can also help you figure out the gaps: what did you forget when you took that 2 hour long drive? What did you child ask for, want, drop, eat? When you were at the airport, what did your toddler pay attention to? Maybe you can get some ideas of special toys or games they can play on the airplane.
Setting expectations with your toddler can be done in vain if you don’t properly prepare yourself for the inevitable. For example, you can bet your bottom dollar that your toddler will get tired. They’ll get angry. They’ll want the blue pillow, not the green one. They’ll be hot, they’ll be cold. They’ll throw up, they’ll eat everything, they’ll eat nothing. They won’t sleep or they’ll sleep through the entire trip.
Take time to speak to your spouse or partner about your own expectations and how you plan to share responsibility throughout the holiday. Each partner will probably want some alone time to unwind, shop, go to the spa, sight see, have a drink at the bar. Make sure you respect each other’s alone time on holidays the way you would at home. It’ll make for an easier time and ensure everyone enjoys themselves, not just the kids.
Finally, have a game plan for dealing with the tantrums when they arise. Don’t be surprised. Stop and think about why your child may be upset or angry. It’s hard, for sure, to not freak out when your child is freaking out, especially if it’s a common theme in your family, but you don’t want to spend your holiday upset or stressed out. Sometimes parents need a time out too. If you find yourself or your children getting upset, take a time out. Grab a cold drink, sit and relax for a moment. Take turns with your spouse dealing with child issues so that you don’t get overwhelmed.
So make your list, check it twice. Pack the car, board the airplane, hop on that train. And enjoy making memories with your toddler. Be ready for anything and be prepared to have a great time!