Traveling with children affected by ADHD or anxiety? Tips to help ensure smooth sailing

Travel can be difficult for anyone, especially forlittle ones—but there are ways to make your family vacation less stressful.

“Switching up our day-to-day routine can be unsettling for many of us but especially children who thrive in environments that are consistent and predictable,” says Melissa Dowd, a therapist withPlushCare, a virtual primary care and mental health platform. “Add on top of that a child who struggles with anxiety, sensory issues, ADHD or other challenges, and traveling can prove to be quite stressful.”

To help your family vacation go more smoothly, minimize stress and optimize fun, we asked experts to share their tips.

Bring snacks for kids

Aside from parents keeping calm and organized,make sure thechild has slept and is fed prior to travel,saysRebecca Jackson, vice president of programs and outcomes forBrain Balance, a learning program for children with developmental and learning disabilities.

“No one likes to be hungry,” Jackson says. “Our brain requires fuel to function and behave. When we run low on fuel, we have less control at any age. Keep in mind that the younger you are, the harder it is to control your mood and behaviors.”

Sleep is another vital factor,Jackson says” “A tired brain doesn’t do well.”

“To really set yourself up for success for the whole family is making sure that you’re still getting good quality sleep,” she says. “One of my pet peeves is, as parents, so often we do things that don’t set our kids up for success, and then we get mad at them when they melt down or are uncooperative. But sometimes we’re the ones that chose to skip the nap or kept them up hours past bedtime.”

Keep things familiar

“The very nature of travel breaks up our routine: the destination is often unfamiliar,” Dowd says. “There are stimuli that we’re not used to experiencing. We are often in a car or plane for long periods of time, so quarters are tight, and our sleep schedules are disrupted and impacted. Regardless of what a child might be struggling with,it’s so important to keep the routine as similar to home as possible.”

Dowd says this might include things like:

  • Maintaining your child’s regular bedtime routine and timing.
  • Maintaining healthy food options as best as possible.
  • Setting clear expectations and agendas at the start of each day so your child feels safe and settled in the new environment.
  • Paying attention to your child’s cues.

Handling a meltdown

The first step in handling a child’s meltdown isknowing it’s going to happen, Jackson says.

When it comes, “Find a quiet space,” Jackson says. “This isn’t the time to lecture your child about their behavior or their actions. This is just simply a reset — calm, cool, quiet…. so that you can reengage back in the fun.”

Traveling can make someone anxious because there are so many unknowns.

“A great way to ensure everyone feels included and has fun is by allowing each member of the family to choose an activity they would like to do while on the trip,” Dowd says. “This allows for each member to feel special, and it’s a great way to encourage quality time with the family.”

To help keep kids entertained during a plane ride or long car ride, consider bringing along some portable, age-appropriate distractions like puzzles.

To help keep kids entertained on a plane or long car ride, consider bringing along some portable, age-appropriate distractions such as puzzles.

Things to pack

To help keep kids entertainedon a long ride or even while stuck at the airport, consider bringing along some portable distractions like video games.

For non-tech options, Jackson suggests bringing small yet age-appropriate activitiesthat engage the senses to help keep the mood positive and the kids distracted. Like books, crayons andsmall containers of playdough or bubbles.

If yourchild issensitive to loud noises,consider noise-canceling headphones.

And to help avoid discomfortduring a flight takeoff, bring something to help prevent or soothe ear pressure such as gum or a lollipop.

Don’t be hard on yourself

Parents deserve a break, too.

“I encourage parents to practice patience, flexibility and grace with everyone involved, including themselves,” Dowd says. “Traveling can be stressful on everyone, and we often put a lot of pressure on ourselves to make the trip perfect. If we can ease up on ourselves and others a bit and focus on the true intentions we have set for our summer trip, it is likely to be even that much more enjoyable.

“Plan as best you can, and know that not everything is going to go according to that plan. And that is OK.”


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