Whether you’re taking a long-haul flight overseas or a weekend road trip, traveling with family can be a little more challenging when you have an anxious child. But there are ways to make the journey go smoothly if you plan ahead.
From bringing along plenty of distractions to trying homeopathic medication, here are 10 tips for dealing with travel anxiety before and during the trip.
1. Prepare as Much as Possible
Preparing extensively before a trip helps you avoid being stuck in a stressful situation with no idea how to calm your child. If they’ve never been on a plane, train, or long car ride, the fear of what to expect can be daunting. The same can be said for a new place–will it have all their favorite things? Will they get lost? Filling your child in on what to expect (including the scary bits of flights like take-off and landing) can help them visualize what to expect. You can also share photos and videos of the place you’ll be visiting so they can have an idea of where they will end up at the end of the journey.
Another way to prepare is to establish some sort of daily routine on your trip. While vacation may be all about ditching routines and embracing new experiences, letting go of predictability completely is bound to make your child feel untethered. Some routines to maintain include regular eating times, exercise, and set bedtimes.
2. Expect the Worst - Remember It’s Ok!
While you want your child to anticipate having fun on their trip, it’s crucial for you to anticipate potential challenges so you can prepare for them adequately. Not sure they’ll eat the food on the flight? Bring their favorite snacks or meals with you. Not sure the hotel room will be quiet? Bring along a sound machine.
It’s also a good idea to let go of perfection. Some moments are bound to go poorly, there may be tantrums in public places, accidents, canceled plans–do your best to go with the flow and stay calm under pressure and your child will take your cue.
3. Bring Plenty of Distractions & Comfort Items
Most of the time you want your child to focus and not get carried away by every little distraction. But distractions can actually work in your favor when traveling with an anxious kid. Download some episodes of their favorite show, bring along some activity books, or even pack a surprise especially for the trip. Be sure to bring many options just in case one doesn’t interest them.
It may also be useful to bring along a favorite stuffed animal or comfort item so long as you don’t lose it along the way, which will only exacerbate their anxiety.
4. Let Them Have Their Own Bag
Pack a child-sized backpack up with snacks, toys, books, or whatever you’re planning to use to keep them busy while traveling. Better yet, give them the option to pack their own bag so they have a sense of ownership and control over this aspect of the trip. But be sure to keep it light so you don’t have to end up lugging around another bag.
Letting your child have their own bag may also come in handy when you arrive at your destination. Allowing your child to carry around their own sunblock, snacks, and maybe a map of the destination will help foster a sense of independence.
5. Lay the Groundwork
Traveling through crowded terminals and unknown destinations can cause anxiety for both parent and child, although certain precautions like using a GPS tracker or dressing your child in bright clothes can ease your mind. But no matter how many precautions you take, preparing for an upcoming trip is a great opportunity to lay the groundwork for how to keep your child safe and what they should do if they do get lost along the way and where they can go for help.
6. Ask for Help if You Need it
Speaking of asking for help, it’s also important that you give yourself permission to ask for help when needed. If your child requires special accommodations, don’t be afraid to make a request. According to the Child Mind Institute, restaurants can usually give you tables closer to the exit and theme parks like Disneyland and Six Flags have special passes that allow kids to skip lines.1 However, some of these may require proof that your child needs accommodation, so consider bringing documentation.
If you’re worried about how your child will behave in an enclosed space like an airplane or train, keep in mind that the transportation crew are there to help. There are also bound to be many other parents traveling with you who will intimately understand the stresses of traveling with a child.
7. Bring a Change of Clothes
Traveling can be messy. Spills, crumbs, and accidents may not happen, but if they do, you’ll want to have a change of clothes handy. Be sure to keep this in your carry-on or your child’s bag for easy access when needed. It’s also ideal to dress your child in layers no matter what the weather is like at home or at your destination. The temperature inside flight or train cabins are unpredictable, and layers will help your child dress down or dress up to their comfort level.
8. Use Mindfulness
It’s easy for an anxious child to catastrophize every minor bump along the way and get carried away by their worst thoughts. Mindfulness can help them bring them back to the moment. One simple mindfulness tool is the 2-to-1 breathing technique. Simply ask them to count their inhale and then double the count for the exhale. So if they inhale for four seconds, help them extend their exhale to eight. This will intentionally slow down their breathing and give them something to focus on besides their worrying thoughts. Find other breathing techniques here.
Another useful technique is listening to a guided meditation, which can be downloaded on your phone or tablet. A guided meditation will lead your child through a calming practice and is typically accompanied by soothing music or nature sounds.
9. Try Homeopathic Medication
Taking a homeopathic medication like Brillia can also help ease travel anxiety if started at least two to three weeks before the trip. Unlike anti-anxiety medication like Xanax®, Brillia does not work immediately to quell anxious symptoms, but it also won’t cause any harmful side effects like those associated with prescription anti-anxiety medications. Brillia is a non-prescription medication clinically proven to ease anxiety, irritability, and restlessness while enhancing focus and clarity and it is safe to give to children five and up. But as a gentle and cumulative medication, it does take time to build up in the system and the dosage must be followed consistently. Brillia has no contraindications with other medicines or remedies your child may be taking, so you can add it to your child’s regimen without worry.
Brillia is part of a holistic approach, which means it works best when combined with healthy lifestyle habits like proper nutrition, adequate sleep, mindfulness, and controlled screen time. This methodology is called the 5 Pillars and helps manage your child’s anxiety long term.
10. Don’t Overextend Yourself or Your Child
When traveling with an anxious child, know your child’s limits and know your own. After a long journey, it may be tempting to dive into all the fun experiences you’ve been looking forward to, but don’t forget to take some down time first. It’s also important to schedule in regular breaks and moments of relaxation throughout the trip so your child doesn’t become overwhelmed with too much all at once. You may even want to consider dipping your toe into traveling by planning shorter trips first before booking a long vacation.
If you have an anxious child, explore more tips on how to manage their symptoms at the Brillia(nce) Resource Center.
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