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Facts for All Ages

Prevent Vacation Stress

Do vacations have to be completely stress-free to be enjoyable? No, of course not. When we stop to think about the fact that children on vacation are often away from what is predictable and familiar in their home life and routines, it is easier to understand when they are not on their best behavior.

We can take some simple steps to prepare children for travel. With preparation, we can often eliminate missed snacks, meals or naps, and limit whining, sibling rivalry, frequent potty breaks and endless hours of car travel that leaves everyone feeling at the end of their rope. Taking some time before a trip to do a little planning can be important, especially when children are involved. When children are given knowledge about what to expect during the vacation, they are usually better able to cope with any changes in their schedule.

For children who don't deal well with changes, it becomes very important to prepare them and yourself for those needs in which they are going to have the most difficult time adjusting. Taking the time to understand what is hardest for them can give you great insight into how to negotiate their needs and help them see that their concerns are important to you. "I know you like to eat out of your blue bowl for breakfast. We will be eating in restaurants when we are on vacation. They may not have a blue bowl. Will you be able to eat out of their bowls, or do we need to take your blue bowl from home?"

Consider these 10 tips before you take your next vacation:

1. Share basic knowledge about the trip. Sometimes as parents, we can forget to communicate information to our children that would relieve some of the stress they may be dealing with. Share knowledge such as:
• The day and time you will be leaving
• Whether you will travel by car, bus, train, boat or plane
• How long you will be gone
• People and places you will visit
• Things you will get to do

2. Order brochures and maps of your vacation destination. You can mark the places you go each day or make a map with your child so he can mark where you go each day. Check your library for videos or DVDs you can watch about the places you are going.

3. Plan that the trip will take longer with children. Rest stops should be scheduled at least every two hours to let your children stretch and burn off some energy. With a little planning, you can make these stops a part of your family fun:
• Take a beach ball or Frisbee to toss back and forth.
• Plan a picnic or snack on a blanket or picnic table.
• Blow and chase bubbles.

4. Start each day with a good breakfast, and take nutritious snacks for between meals. Children will travel better when they have eaten.

5. Have children empty their bladders before you start your trip and remind them to go at every stop along the way. Again, they will travel better.

6. If riding in a car, remember to keep the doors securely shut and locked. Follow guidelines for seats:
• Infants up to 2 years of age need to be secured in a rear-facing infant seat.
• Age 2 up to 5 years of age need to be secured in a forward-facing car seat.
• Age 5 up to when the seat belts fit properly should be secured in a booster seat.

Check out the Center for Disease Control website for child safety recommendations:

7. Take a favorite blanket or stuffed animal to help with napping. Soft music playing can also be easier to fall asleep to than hearing a blaring radio.

8. Pack a travel kit for children with favorite activities they can do during the ride or flight, such as:
• Crayons or markers and coloring books or paper
• Small travel games
• Storybooks
• Favorite doll or stuffed animal
Consider distributing or adding items along the way if the trip is long.

9. For flights, explain each step you will need to do. Stand in line for your tickets, check your luggage, find the boarding room, wait for the plane to board, board the plane, find your seats, etc. Help your child understand things that will be important to them such as, "After we find our seats on the plane, buckle up, and listen to the flight attendant; you can open your travel kit or watch a movie."

10. Don't forget to bring gum during take-offs and landings. This will help your child's ears adjust to the pressure changes in the plane. Infants can nurse or suck on a pacifier.

When you return home, settling back into everyday life can be bumpy for everyone. Don't be surprised if your children are extra touchy for a couple of days. Remember to give your family a day of resting before returning to life as usual.

Realizing children may become crabby or overexcited by all the different changes in their routines during a vacation can help you to stay positive and make some small preparations that make a difference.

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