The holiday season can be a hectic time of year with shopping, parties, and family gatherings that sometimes involve traveling. When traveling with kids, the announcements of “Are we there yet?” “I’m bored,” and “I have to go to the bathroom,” are common. In addition to these announcements, yelling, sibling arguments, teasing, and other disruptive behaviors can make parents feel like they need a vacation after their “vacation.” The following strategies will help manage common child behaviors to help everyone survive and hopefully enjoy the season.
Minimize and Plan for Down-time: Preventing your child from feeling “bored” is key as boredom often precedes behavior problems. Strategies that can help prevent boredom and behavior problems include:
• Plan your travel time and route strategically to avoid rush hour, long layovers, or situations that will lengthen your travel if possible.
• Considering planned stops during road trips in addition to the typical bathroom and food stops. This can include kid-friendly stores like Barnes and Noble or other spots where your children can stretch their legs and explore.
• Bring plenty of snacks and water to avoid meltdowns and crankiness due to hunger.
• Have more planned activities than you anticipate needing. This can include group games such as I Spy and 20 Questions; books and audiobooks; and interactive activities such as Mad Libs, paper and crayons, and other easily transportable activities. Additionally, it may help to have copies of the same materials for each of your young children or create a system for sharing to prevent squabbling among siblings.
• Decide about your child’s use of electronics ahead of time. If you are comfortable with it, electronics, iPads, Nintendo DSs, and portable DVD players can help, especially during long flights. If you want to restrict screen time, it’s best to allow any use at the end of the trip rather than the beginning. This will reduce any issues that could arise when your child has reached his or her screen time limit and help provide entertainment at a much-needed time in the trip.
Take Care of Yourself and Manage Your Own Stress: The holidays can be a stressful time and increased parent stress can interfere with your ability to tolerate and manage problematic behaviors. You can take care of yourself by getting enough sleep and exercise and setting aside a small amount of time every day for relaxation. Even a couple minutes can make a difference. The calmer and more relaxed you are the easier it will be to minimize your child’s difficulties.
Anticipate Problems and Consider a Behavior Chart with Rewards: If you expect your child to struggle in a particular area, consider a behavior chart that encourages him or her to engage in the positive opposite of that problem. You can set up a behavior chart by:
• Identify a likely problem, such as kicking the seat in front of him or her or physically fighting with a sibling.
• Figure out the positive opposite of that problem behavior such as keeping hands and feet to self.
• Decide how often your child needs feedback. For instance, your child might need a sticker or point every 15 minutes during a two-hour car ride for meeting that goal.
• Select a reward for success and criteria for meeting that goal. For example, child can earn reward for earning six out of eight stickers.
Stephanie Wagner, PhD is a Clinical Assistant Professor of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at NYU Langone’s Child Study Center. She specializes in providing psychosocial interventions, including parent training, Parent-Child Interaction Therapy (PCIT), and school consultation to parents and teachers of children with ADHD and disruptive behavior disorders. Additionally, Dr. Wagner has training in pediatric sleep medicine. As part of her clinical practice at the Child Study Center, she provides organizational skills training. During the summer, Dr. Wagner is a clinical supervisor at the NYU Summer Program for Kids.
Dr. Wagner is a member of the Association of Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) and Division 53 (Child and Adolescent Psychology) of the American Psychological Association. She has presented her work at national conferences including the Association for Behavioral and Cognitive Therapies (ABCT) and Parent-Child Interaction Therapy conventions and has authored several articles and book chapters.