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Keeping it Together While Traveling Together

Julie Austin, Psy.D. | Published on 12/2/2022

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Taking Care

By: Julie Austin, Psy.D.   |   December 2, 2022


Just as we’ve gotten out of the daily school grind, we actually find ourselves longing for a steady routine. Guess what? So are the kids! Everyone feels momentary glee as the pressure of academics lift, but winter break and holiday vacations pose their own sets of challenges. Often there are various activities as well as unstructured time, creating ongoing stress from the plethora of new beginnings and endings.

While there are lots of plans to make and trips to take, one thing that should be on your agenda is vacation stress management, both for yourself and for your kids. Traveling can be a great opportunity to leave the grind behind, but hidden behind the fun is the stress that comes with the disruption of our predictable lives. This affects us all, but kids don’t always have the insight to foresee their reactions. This is where you come in.

Keep to your routine as much as possible. This means keeping regular bedtimes, regular meal times, nighttime baths and following any other daily routines even if you aren’t at home. Routine is familiar to children and can be soothing and so many other facets of their days are unfamiliar. You might see the turbulence of a changed routine in your child’s behavior through more aggression or clinginess. This is a child’s stress signal.

Discuss plans ahead of time. Let your child know where you will be traveling, for how long, with whom you will be staying and what the accommodations will be like. Will your child be sleeping with other children in a room? Sharing a room with you and your partner? Encourage your child to bring lovies, bears, or other comforting transitional objects. Help your child anticipate his or her needs by sharing all the information you think will help them. If possible, try and allow a day or two in between the end of school and traveling to decompress and prepare.

Allow kids to maintain some control. Many kids, young and old, feel like trips are all about us, the parents and adults who drag them to a relatives home and to boring parties and dinners. Pull them into the loop! This can sometimes mean more work for you, especially with younger ones. However, when this is reasonable, find select activities and events that could incorporate your child’s ideas. On an emotional level, when it comes to travel arrangements and staying with relatives, ask your kids how they feel about the trip, if they have any concerns or questions, and ask them for some options to minimize their distress.

Help kids with unfamiliar relatives. When staying with relatives you don’t see often, it can be uncomfortable for your kids to suddenly be expected to relate. If your child needs to stay physically close to you, allow this and don’t obligate him or her to answer questions about school or other activities if that seems overwhelming. Some parents feel the pressure to force kids to interact, especially when there is little contact with family in between visits. But that pressure will likely backfire. Your child will shut down or be more anxious and feel frustrated. If he or she stays quiet, give them some warm-up time; And don’t make excuses – your child will hear that and feel like he or she has disappointed you.

Minimize parental saturation. This means alone time for you and your partner. Find at least 15 minutes where you can be alone. Offer to go to the store for something if staying with family. Make sure your kids have this too – they need emotional space that will allow them to re-enter your travel activities happily. Also, especially when staying with relatives, arrange for your family to have together time, even if it’s just for 30 to 60 minutes. Alone time with your gang can do wonders for morale and give everyone a chance to talk openly, if needed.

Pay attention to your body. It is easy to overeat and overextend yourself during travel, so stick to the beneficial things that you do for your body. If you regularly exercise, try to keep this integrated into your routine. Getting too tired affects mood – yours and your child’s. You’ll be more vulnerable to quick mood shifts and reduced coping abilities. Another important factor is eating well. Mood is also related to nutritional balance, so make sure you and your kids are eating three meals a day even if they are small. Blood sugar levels are related to both anxiety and depression – even small fluctuations can have an effect.

Make the choices that are right practically and emotionally for your family, and you’ll look back at your trip with satisfaction and fulfillment, and if you have success this year, you can make healthy choices a tradition!

Julie Austin, Psy.D is Certified Life Coach.  She was a practicing psychologist and supervisor for 25 years, and decided to move into the collaborative and action-oriented world of life coaching.  Her specialties include parenting, women’s empowerment and identity, communication, life transitions, grief and loss.  Her style is interactive and supportive, quickly identifying the most important issues then developing the most useful approaches to resolving them.  Please contact her at 415-272-4515 for questions and appointments.  Website coming soon! 
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