6 tips for traveling with an anxious kid.

We’re headed to Palm Springs in a few days for Spring Break. Yay! While we are all really excited, I’m feeling an equal mix of relief and gratitude as well. The reason? I’m fairly confident that my 8-year-old son will be able to keep it together as we transition from home to airport to hotel and back again.

This is a recent development.

Last year, we traveled a lot as a family, which was kind of a mixed bag. Some days were super fun: vacation. Others were truly awful: trips. We hit a low in Seattle. You can read all about it here if you want.

We finally figured out that my son’s atrocious behavior was mainly caused by anxiety. I’ve written about this before, from my perspective. Turns out that my son is a lot like me. He doesn’t do well with transitions. But instead of getting tense, acting suspicious and constantly getting questioned at the airport, the way he deals with his anxiety is to act like a total butt.

It’s so fun.

The silver lining is that since we went on so many trips, after awhile, we were able to figure out some kid-friendly anxiety-reducing strategies that worked. If you’ve got a kid who has similar issues, maybe this list will be helpful to you. Here are the things that worked for us:

1. Watch and learn.

Before you leave, watch videos of your destination with your kid. YouTube is great for this. Watch enough footage so that you really feel like you will “know” it when you get there.

2. Develop rituals.

Before we leave on vacation, we head to Starbucks. No matter what time of day it is. My son even has his own Starbucks gift card, which makes him feel pretty important.

3. Put your kid in charge/have him make decisions.

This can be as simple as letting your kid chose where to sit on the airport tram. Another winner is letting your kid choose which car to rent (assuming you’ve got a few to choose from on the lot).

4. Keep your child updated and tell him what is coming next.

We keep a running dialogue going with our son. “All right – when the tram gets to Terminal A, we’re going to get off and walk to the gate. Then we’ll be there for half an hour or so. After that we’re going to get on the plane.”

5. Be honest and compassionate.

No need to pretend that it’s all fun and amazing. Honestly, there are parts of traveling that are not so great. I’ve found that when I tell me son how I’m feeling (“Ugh, I really don’t like waiting in line to get on the plane”), then he is able to tell me how he is feeling…instead of just having inexplicably atrocious behavior.

6. Go slow.

If possible, build extra time into your schedule so you don’t have to rush. We’ve found that the more relaxed we are, the smoother the journey is.

And sometimes I’ll just give my son a big hug without saying anything. He knows what I mean.

Are your kids anxious travelers? Do you have any more tips to add? I’d love to hear your stories!

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Comments

  1. Heavenlyjane says:

    When my kids were about your son’s age, we began letting them to be the navigator. Start by letting him be the one to get the family from the airport entrance to the flight gate. My kids loved wielding the power and it was excellent training for eventual independence.

  2. Judy from Boise says:

    Great tips, our family loves to travel, and our daughter who is on the autism spectrum is no exception. For her it is also important to not rush when we are leaving the house, she likes to travel from room to room and have a little closure prior to us leaving for the airport. We also formally say goodby and thank our hotel rooms prior to leaving to head home. So for us part of great transitions is firm closure. It also is a nice gratitude practice on both ends.
    We also pick out outfits for the plane ride a few days prior which seems to help.

    • Points Pixie says:

      Judy from Boise – Great tips! And love the gratitude practice. Trying to think of a way to incorporate into our travel routines.

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