- Itinerary, Please! Create a schedule or calendar listing the activities you’ll be doing on each day of the vacation. Knowing what’s expected helps many kids feel less anxious about being in a new place with unfamiliar people. A schedule also supports children through the many transitions that take place during a vacation. If plans are intentionally unstructured, list a few options so your child at least knows the possibilities. Whenever you can, give your child some choices about vacation activities.
- Write About It: Some children benefit from writing a social narrative (this could be as short as a few sentences) that describes their plans in advance of the trip. Enhance the narrative by adding photos or drawings.
- Map it Out: Before you hit the road, use a map (or a simplified map) to show your child the route you’ll be following. Include spots where you’ll take breaks, and encourage your child to mark off places as you go. Some kids will enjoy the chance to help with navigation and to inform the group of progress along the way. Once you arrive at your destination, your child can help out by picking up maps and brochures and pointing out sights to see. These types of activities give kids a sense of control as they adjust to an unfamiliar place and can also build initiation and leadership skills.
- Stay on Schedule: Review the upcoming day’s schedule each evening and/or morning. Talk about what’s expected in the places you’ll visit (for example, in a museum, it’s expected to keep voices down and not touch the art). If the itinerary changes, keep your child informed. A change in plans offers an opportunity to demonstrate flexible thinking and to show kids that they can learn to handle (and even enjoy) unexpected events. For most children, it’s helpful to stick with a familiar and predictable schedule for sleep and meals.
- Comforts of Home: If your child has specific routines or rituals that feel especially important, try to continue them in some form during vacation. Small comfort items can easily come along in a suitcase. In advance of the trip, talk about some of the routines that will be the same or different than they are at home.
- Minimize the Overwhelm: Give your child a break when needed, even if it throws off your plans. Be flexible and willing to adapt if a particular activity is creating too much anxiety or fatigue.
- Avoid Sensory Overload: Traveling brings new sensory input in the way of sounds, smells, foods, crowds, and tight spaces. Before your trip, show your child some images of what to expect during the trip and once you arrive. Talk about strategies for coping with challenges like too much noise, unfamiliar tastes, or the need to sit in a cramped space.
Use the suggestions above to prime your child and help him or her feel more comfortable and less overwhelmed while away from home. If you anticipate and prepare for your child’s needs, you can ease the stress of travel and find more of the fun in a family vacation!