Over the years we have traveled a LOT and moved a lot with kids. We have driven cross country a number of times and flown across the ocean with our kids all at various ages and stages. Our twins had about 30 airplane rides before they were 2 not to mention a having been to about 20 states from IL to TX to WA all via car.
Here are some tips I have learned when you are about to move or go on a big trip:
1) Start talking about the trip ahead of time
Mr Rockstar hates change. He hates the unknown. He doesn’t really understand time either. Add these all up and it makes for a miserable couple weeks leading up to a trip. When he was younger I tried just not telling him a couple times. This was a big mistake because then he starts thinking at any moment he might get put in the car NEVER to come back (in his mind it is NEVER ….and I guess in the case of moving it is never). I finally realized it wasn’t fair to him and it was worse for me in the long term to keep our moves or trips a secret. Besides as I start packing etc he eventually picks up that something is changing. It is better to just be honest and talk it through. Usually this becomes an ongoing conversation for weeks to really explain what is going on.
2) Make a visual calendar
Remember how I said Mr Rockstar doesn’t yet understand time? When I say we will leave in a few weeks in his mind he isn’t sure if that is tomorrow or a few years. Past the immediate now he gets a little lost. Of course the twins only being 3 also fail to grasp the nuances of time. The last couple moves/trips I have taken to making Mr Rockstar a visual calendar. I pull up powerpoint, put dates in the header, add pictures for the days I know what we are doing (picture of car for travel days, etc.), and print it out. As our plans get more solidified I pencil in more activities, etc into the calendar. For instance the day before Thanksgiving we loaded up Hubby’s car and then he hit the road. The kids and I aren’t going to follow him for another week. So this is what Thanksgiving looked like on the calendar:
3) Keep as much as possible the same.
As much as it is a pain it really pays off to pack their bedding, their favorite couple books (you know the ones they are ALWAYS requesting at bedtime), etc. Especially when it comes to sleep anything you can do to keep it the same will pay huge dividends to getting them to actually sleep in a new place. Besides bringing objects from home it is also a good idea to try and keep your routine as close as possible. I know most of it will be completely lost since you are on a completely different schedule with traveling, moving, etc. But if there are a couple key items in your routine/daily rhythm you can keep that also helps the children feel like the world is not completely falling apart. LOL. Read more about the importance of routine here.
4) Things that must change, try to change a few weeks BEFORE you leave.
If you KNOW something is going to change then go ahead and change it in your house if you can a few weeks before hand. That way it becomes the new normal before you leave. In the past the twins have been in pack n plays when we travel so a few weeks ahead of time I would start putting them to bed in the pack n plays instead of their cribs. Of course they would climb out and get all wound up because it was new and exciting….but at least we got to deal with this while we were still at home and not have to deal with being in a new and exciting place as well as sleeping in a new and exciting pack n play. We could do some training ahead of time about staying in the pack n play once it is time to sleep.
As we prepare for our upcoming move I realized it is impractical to move all the kids bedding. Plus we aren’t actually going to move their physical beds for a few months until our house in WA sells. Also, the girls have outgrown their pack n plays. Actually we are going to be pretty nomadic for weeks visiting family all over the country. My solution to this quandary? We took the kids to the store and let them all pick out a small sleeping bag. The girls sleeping bags even came with little pillows. The kids have been sleeping on them for about a week now and are pretty used to them. They are starting to smell like home. Now we can take their “beds” everywhere we travel and they know when we roll them out it is time to go to sleep.
Another change I have made in the past leading up to a move is beginning to diffuse lavender in their bedrooms at night. I don’t usually do this all the time but if we are about to start traveling I will begin diffusing lavender in their room in preparation. Then when we are staying in hotels I can bring my diffuser and make the hotel smell like “home” and “bedtime”.
Oftentimes the kids sleep with a fan on for white noise. When we travel I use the sound machine app on my phone. So I will actually start using the sound machine app in their bedrooms a few weeks before we leave as well since it does sound different than a real fan. Again, anything you can think of that will change even subtly go ahead and change if you can! Then instead of EVERYTHING being different there are a number of things that are the same, that are home.
5) Let them learn the valuable lesson that sometimes you are just stuck and need to make the best of it
Doesn’t this happen to all of us? Those times we are interminably stuck in an airplane and they won’t turn the air on and you just want to scream? Even as adults we sometimes are stuck and just need to make the best of it. It doesn’t help to spiral out of control and get hysterical.
When we were kids we went on A LOT of road trips. We were home schooled and my father travelled quite a bit for work so we would just hop in the car and go with him. My mom would give us a small bag to pack with whatever books/toys we wanted and that was the entertainment we would have. I remember when we got a GameBoy when I was 9 we were all in heaven. Of course since there were 5 of us kids and only one GameBoy it still meant you only got maybe 2hrs a day on it while traveling if you were lucky and it didn’t run out of batteries on your turn. I never realized how much we learned as kids about always being prepared to entertain ourselves, to make the best of bad situations, to realize sometimes you are just stuck and rather than getting frustrated to think of it as a grand adventure until I started seeing the reactions of some of my peers after a few hours on a road trip. Seriously have you seen grown people melting down after 5 hrs in the car? I have and trust me it is not pretty.
So what does this have to do with our kids? I have met a ton of moms that have just decided based on prior bad experiences that they will never take their kids on a road trip longer than 4 hrs. They think somehow their child is different/worse than any other child. Maybe they are? but in my experience learning to self-soothe while traveling is a learned skill not a natural one kids are born with. No matter how many toys, coloring books, movies, etc you bring, eventually the kids WILL get upset. No amount of toys or electronic devices will pacify a kid after 8 hrs in the car especially if they were in the car 10 hrs the day before. They will fuss. They will cry. Your job as a parent isn’t to prevent this because you can’t. Your job is to be empathetic not to bail them out. They are learning a valuable lesson. Yes frequent stops to let them out of the car to run around are necessary. But don’t feel like you are a failure as a parent if your kids get upset and you need to just keep driving (or you are stuck in the airplane. After flying with 18 month old twins with ear infections…most people really can’t hear your child unless they are within a couple rows of them. People were telling us they were angels and trust me they weren’t.). The meltdown is inevitable. Just remember they are learning a great life lesson. They probably won’t thank you for it later but know they will be fine.
The big temptation is to stop the car every time they fuss. If you do stop every time they get upset then they learn screaming and whining is how to escape and it will just make it that much more miserable to take long trips. Again just be empathetic with them and above all make sure you keep your cool. It is hard on all of us after a long day or two of travel and adding some fussing kids to the mix can be a recipe for disaster. The last thing you need while trying to educate your child on surviving uncomfortable situations is to have a mommy meltdown.
So relax, put on some music, sing at the top of your lungs, roll down the windows (it is a great way to temporarily distract the kids plus it kind of knocks the wind out of them LOL), rub their feet, play eye spy, find ways to teach them self soothing. Before you know it they will be road trip warriors.