Child Caring

Before you make that Thanksgiving trip.....

Hi Barbara,
You probably get this question every year at Thanksgiving, but what advice do you have for traveling with young children? Until now, our family came to us. But this year, gps are infirm (all 4 of them -- yikes! at least they live in the same city) and we are going there and will be doing a lot of visiting to various homes of family members. But we have three kids, and it's our first 5-hour drive. I'm also wondering about their sleep schedules once we are there.
From: TW, Riverdale, NY

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Dear TW,

My best advice for road trips is that when you make your pit stops, do it at places where the kids can do something physical, even if it's just jumping jacks on a sidewalk. (Making it a game helps.)) The more you can get their bodies in motion, the easier it will be for them to get back in the car and be still. I know some of you will disagree with me, but I am not a fan of in-car videos (see what David Walsh has to say about them here) because they are just one more way for kids to get hooked on electronics and hooked on external distractions which can lead to a loss of creativity. (See the previous link for more on this.)

You don't mention your kids' ages* but if they are of that age when they bicker over who sits where, make a seat rotation chart ahead of time so that they each get a chance in the coveted spot. School-age children will think that's most fair.

As for schedules once you're there, remember that young children don't do well with change in routines. Most school-age kids can adapt, especially if you tell them in advance what to expect: "We've never slept at Auntie G's house before; we'll all be in one room, and we're bringing sleeping bags for you two, so it'll kinda be like camping!" (In fact, I'd give younger an idea about what to expect. I'd even go so far as to create a little story with drawings or photos about whose home they are going to, what distant relatives they will see, what the traveling will be like. They might not understand it word-for-word but they will get something. )

With mixed age children, do all you can to cater to the routines of the youngest. In general, she's the one most likely to fall apart first. Think ahead and bring the little extras from home that might just make a difference, not just a few favorite stuffed animals (that the child should select, by the way; if you choose them, you know she'll want the one you forgot) but also the night light, or a favor pillow. Trust me, I speak from experience on that one.

It's not just the nightly routine that's important. The farther young children get from the familiarity of the daily routine, the more likely they are to fall apart. Again, cater the day's activities and schedule around the youngest child. You can do things that are out of their repertoire, but be reasonable. When you want to leave Auntie's after an hour and she insists you stay longer 'cause "the kids are so good," don't push your luck.

*When sending in a question, please please try to remember to include your kids' ages!