Patients and Families

Traveling with Kids

Plan for Success

Traveling with kids can be a wonderful experience full of exciting adventures. It also can be a challenge for parents. Some people find going away with their children as stressful as Survivor. Fortunately, there are many things parents can do to prepare for a successful trip.

  • Plan ahead. Start talking about your trip at least several weeks before you leave. Tell your children where you're going and some of the things you will do. Take books out of the library that describe going on vacation or tell about the places you're going to visit. You'll enjoy reading together, and it will help prepare your kids for the trip they're about to take.
  • Let each child pack a small bag with special toys, dolls or books he or she would like to bring along. Our family always takes a set of art supplies when we're traveling. Pads of paper, markers, glue sticks and scissors all come in handy when you're stuck in traffic or waiting for a delayed flight. Pack a bag of books or books on tape, and your kids can spend time reading or listening to stories if they're bored.
  • You also can take turns picking favorite music stations. Talk with your kids about taking turns and sharing your traveling experience, and they'll learn to cooperate and solve problems.

Many parents let their children watch videos during car rides. Having a TV on board can be a great way to break up a long drive, but don't overuse it. Kids may be quiet when they're watching, but TV is a passive activity. Your children will need to use up some of their natural energy, so limit the amount of TV or videos they watch. That goes for movies on airplanes, too-just take away those earphones when it's time to do something else. Also, try to vary your children's travel activities and let them run around at rest stops or when changing planes.

Enjoy spending time together as a family, and make your trip fun. If you're taking a long car trip, take turns telling stories or jokes. Sing songs together and play games. If your children are learning to read, encourage them to read signs to find the letters of the alphabet or their names. Keeping busy will help pass the time, but don't expect your children to be on their best behavior the whole trip. It's normal for kids to act up now and then, even on vacation. Be patient, and talk to your kids about how you expect them to behave.

Discipline doesn't end when you head out the door. Be consistent in setting limits, such as no hitting or kicking, and impose consequences or withdraw their privileges if your children don't follow the rules. You also can offer incentives for good behavior. You might tell your kids that you'll go out for ice cream if they sit quietly in the car for two hours. If you're traveling by plane, tell them you'll give them a special treat (perhaps a small toy or book) if they behave for a given amount of time.

Let your children know you're proud of them when they behave well. If they're reading quietly or playing nicely together, tell them what good travelers they are. Praise motivates kids to continue good behavior.

Giving special treats is a nice way to reward children, but make sure they also maintain a healthy diet while you travel. Eat regular meals, and limit the amount of caffeine and sweets your children consume to avoid overstimulation. Be sure your children get enough sleep, too. They'll feel better-and probably will behave better-if they're well rested.

If you stick to a balanced routine and don't schedule too many activities, your children won't feel over-extended. Plan some down time each day. If you're going to a museum in the morning, spend the afternoon at a park or by the hotel swimming pool.

Vacations should be enjoyable for the entire family, so make sure your activities match everyone's interests and are age-appropriate. If you go to a museum, try to find exhibits that are child-friendly. I once took my children to a sculpture exhibit, where my toddler screamed with delight and jumped onto one of the hanging sculptures. If something like this happens to you, make a quick exit-kids have their limits, and you don't want to prolong a bad situation.

Carry supplies to meet your children's basic needs, such as Band-Aids and extra diapers or wipes. It's also a good idea to carry nutritious snacks and drinks for children who get hungry and thirsty. It's better to be prepared than to have to deal with cranky children. Sometimes a quick granola bar in the middle of an outing is enough to keep their energy up for one more hour of sightseeing.

Balance and preparation help make traveling with kids easier. Family trips may test your survival skills, but you will appreciate spending time together. Plus, you'll share special memories of your travels in the years ahead. So get ready, and enjoy the vacation adventures that await you!

Children's Hospital of Pittsburgh of UPMC offers Positive Parenting classes and other parenting workshops. For more information, call the Community Education Department at 412-692-7105. Current classes are listed on this Web site.

Last Update
September 11, 2008
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Last Update
September 11, 2008