How you can make travelling with your toddler less stressful

With holiday season fast approaching, child psychologist Dr Richard Woolfson explains how to make journeys less problematic

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Whether it’s a long drive in the car, a train trip or a flight, summer travel with your toddler is likely to figure quite big in your life around now. It’s easy to hope she’ll sleep, but your child is an aware and active being, which means travel can be daunting.

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Get your child involved in the journey

Like us, toddlers would rather do something other than sit still with a seatbelt on. Your toddler doesn’t fully understand distance yet, so a journey quickly bores her.

Pitch why you’re going and what she’ll see on the way at a level that helps her feel involved.

See the journey from your child’s point of view

Toddlers need a high level of stimulation in everyday life, but can’t play so easily on a journey, so they become uncomfortable and that leads to irritability.

Having stress-free trips is about training your brain as well as your toddler’s. That’s why it helps to look at any proposed journey from her perspective.

Will it be comfortable for her? Will she have activities to amuse her? What will happen if she feels sick? Preventing problems is always better than solving them. And making the journey enjoyable will help her to like travel, rather than dread it.

Try this…

On your next train journey, make sure that you and your toddler sit beside each other and that she has the aisle seat. Walk the length of the carriage every 10 minutes or so and point out things through the window.

You’ll find that these routine spells of activity help to make the journey more bearable for both of you.

Calm your toddler’s fears of travel

Some toddlers are afraid of flying, mainly because of engine noise, the sensations from changes in pressure, and the confined space. You can help by giving her plenty of reassurance.

Expect to focus your attention on her for the entire journey. Talk to her, walk with her up and down the plane when possible, and play with her. Stay alcohol free so you’re in control and alert.

If you’re afraid of flying, do everything you can to hide it. Fear is contagious and if your toddler sees you’re afraid, she’ll become fearful too.

Ways to make travel smoother and more interesting for your child

  • Big it up – tell your toddler what the journey will involve, speak positively, look happy and make it sound exciting.
  • Stop frequently – you can never have too many stops in a journey, as far as your toddler is concerned. She wants to be able to run around freely at every opportunity.
  • Mini snacks – make sure you have lots of small, non-greasy finger food that your toddler can munch on her own.
  • Play on the go– carry a selection of small, hand-held toys that your toddler can play with while seated. Present them to her one at a time, as she gets bored with the previous one
  • Her, her, her – your toddler needs even more interest from you than usual on a long journey, so don’t zone out.
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