Road Trips,Vacations and Expectations
Updated: Jun 17
Many families are traveling again. It can be such a great time of hanging together, visiting people and places; it can also have challenges as each family member is unique, has different personalities and different needs. As parents, vacation can be both relaxing and exhausting with picture perfect moments and pull your hair out moments. So how to do we prepare, engage and enjoy the trip while keeping ourselves emotionally regulated to enhance family connection and fun? A few thoughts:
1. Parent(s) decide ahead of trip what rules of the trip will be (ie. who is sitting where, electronic use, food etc.) When deciding be honest with yourself what you will need to have in place to allow for your own emotional regulation to be the "thermostat" of the environment. Make expectations/rules achievable and developmentally on task. Less expectations with follow through can often be more effective than many expectations and no follow through or inconsistent follow through leading to frustrations for both parents and children.
2. Keep overstimulation in mind when planning the trip. Asking the question- what do the children need while on the trip? What can they handle? Are we expecting them to “behave” outside of age-appropriate abilities? Being mindful of the number of events, visits, travel time and transitions involved. View the transportation (car, plane) as an activity. Be proactive in scheduling. Too many activities can lead to emotional dysregulation setting up situations of high emotions and conflict, often unintentionally. Children may not be able to articulate but their behavior often will send the message of what they are needing.
3. Predictability, consistency and proactively identifying needs of the family is key both before and during the trip. Be flexible to pivot if needed.
4. Parent(s) ask themselves-what are my expectations and desires of this trip? Then ask if that matches what the children can handle? This will help parent(s) set realistic expectations of what the trip will/won’t be like ahead of time.
5. Activities: scavenger hunt list (words of pictures depending on age) of places/things to find on the trip; license plate find-can they find all the states on the trip; ziplock bag for each child with basic items (i.e.notebook, pencil, crayons, stickers), easy to find around the house/ purchase inexpensively and energy prep time minimal. Keep it simple. Headphones if noise is overwhelming for any of the children. A great way to help with emotional regulation if one child is having a tough time, the other children can put on their headphones or vice versa. There are many activities to search online, but recommend keeping it simple, engaging and fun.