Is the thought of travelling with your child making you feel stressed?
Do you wish you could just enjoy your family vacation without fearing the next meltdown?
Here are some tips to get out of the house and into the car or onto the plane without tears!
Preparation is the KEY!
1. Create a schedule
This can be done in different ways depending on your child's age and level of understanding.
For younger children you can create a visual schedule to show the different things that are going to happen leading up to your travel and during the travel. This can be as detailed or general as you want depending on your child. Take a look at the example.
The schedule doesn't have to be fancy - you might draw pictures to represent what will happen or find pictures online and print them out.
For older children a written schedule of what will happen could be sufficient.
Side note - I do find that even for children who can read, an image to represent what will happen helps them to process the information.
2. Create a social story
This is a short descriptive story about what will happen in a chronological order.
A social story is written in first person and uses simple language.
Write what will happen and what the child should do in different situations.
You can include events that might make the child nervous and how they could cope with those feelings.
You can use language such as "When I... I can..."
Write short sentences and pair the sentence with an image to show the expectation.
Here's a quick example:
When I get to the airport I will go with mom and dad and stand in the line. I will put my luggage on the conveyor-belt.
Now, we walk to stand in the security line. I have to put my iPad in the tray and walk through the gate.
Mummy will go first. Then I will go, then daddy will go. I can't hold mommy's hand when I walk through.
This might make me feel nervous but I can sing my favorite song in my head and walk through. Then mommy will give me hugs and tickles.
3. Practice before you go
If there is a particular part of the travel that you know your child is anxious about, or situations that will trigger a meltdown, practice this a few times at home before you go.
Make it a game by setting up the situation at home and going through the process.
Embed positive and reinforcing interactions throughout - give your child LOTS of social praise and reinforcement such as tickles, hi 5's, spins etc. This will help to establish a positive association with an anxiety provoking situation.
Here's an example:
You know your child will not like to sit in their own chair and put the seatbelt on. So, you set up 8 chairs like in the plane, get everyone in the house to stand in a line and walk down the isle, stopping and waiting as they walk.
- Pretend to put your luggage above your head
- Decide who will sit in which seat (so there's no argument on the plane)
- Everyone sits down and then sings you child's favorite song
- Put a scarf around the chair and tie a loose over-hand knot as a pretend seatbelt as you sing your child's favorite song
- Give your child their iPad or a favorite snack (if this is what you plan to do on the plane)
- Pretend the plane is flying, then landing and get your child to wait for you to untie the scarf before they stand up and walk off in a line.