Traveling with Kids

With summer in full swing, many parents and grandparents are hitting the road with children in tow, taking them to scenic parts of the country, going on vacations, and visiting family.

Traveling with kids can be a wonderful experience full of exciting adventures, but it also can be a challenge for parents. Some find going away with their children more stressful than fun, but with the right amount of planning you can ease those worries and have a successful trip.

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Plan Ahead

No trip ever goes according to plan — with or without children — but with a little bit of planning you can mitigate some of the most predictable road bumps. Sometimes, simply acknowledging that problems are inevitable is enough to ease your stress going into a family outing.

  • 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’ll do. Take books out of the library that describe going on vacation or talk 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.
  • Plan some activities for the road. If your child enjoys reading or coloring, bring books and washable art supplies. You can get your children involved, too, by letting them each pack a small bag with special toys, dolls, or books they’d like to bring along.
  • Plan to eat. Meal schedules are often out of whack while traveling, but you can mitigate mood swings related to hunger by packing plenty of healthy snacks, meals, and drinks for the road. If you’re traveling by plane, that might mean buying some snacks at your terminal or researching some restaurants at your destination in advance to ensure everyone will get a meal they like to eat.
  • Expect problems. Planning snacks and activities will help pass the time, but it won’t mitigate all problems. 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.

Screen Time While Traveling

Many parents let their children watch videos during car rides. Having an iPad or DVD-player on board can be a great way to break up a long drive. Just be careful not to let your child watch too much.

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. When it’s time to limit their screen time, take away the headphones and divert their attention to a different activity.

Also, try to vary your children’s travel activities and let them run around at rest stops or when changing planes.

One way to avoid screen time is to focus on the radio or podcasts instead. You can take turns picking favorite music stations to listen to as you drive or use podcasts to strike up conversations with your children.

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.

Encourage good behavior

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.

Have fun

The key to a great family vacation is learning to focus on that quality time together. Encourage your children to take photographs or journal about their experience to preserve memories.

If you can afford it, allocate some money for treasured souvenirs. The more your children feel they have some buy-in and say in the experience, the more likely they are to enjoy it with you.

And if you take the time to plan, chances are you’ll be able to enjoy the trip a bit more by being in the present moment with your kids.

About Pediatrics

From nutrition to illnesses, from athletics to school, children will face many challenges growing up. Parents often will make important health care decisions for them. We hope to help guide both of you in that journey. UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh is a national leader in pediatric care, ranking consistently on U.S. News & World Report’s Best Children’s Hospitals Honor Roll. We provide expert treatment for pediatric diseases, along well-child visits, urgent care, and more. With locations across Pennsylvania, Maryland, and West Virginia, you can find world-class care close to home. We also work closely with UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital, a national leader in care for newborns and their mothers. Our goal is to provide the best care for your children, from birth to adulthood and beyond. Visit our website to find a doctor near you.