travel

What to do When Children Bicker in the Car

Autofahrt

My children are now teenagers, and we still occasionally have this. Here are several ways to solve:

Settle specifics – In our house, it has always been the music. Settling specifics means coming up with a full, solid and publicly agreed upon plan for repeat conflicts. For a few years, our plan was structured around whoever was in the front seat picked first, and on commercial breaks, control alternated. At some point, a great debate started about what constituted a commercial break so we restructured. You might have a simpler plan like following odd/even days. On odd days one child makes all those decisions, and on even days the other child.

Bring supplies and BOOKS – Stock the car with things to keep them busy. This might be magazines, notebooks and pens, magnet games or car bingo. Once children are reading, car rides provide an opportunity for them to really get into their stories. I remember reading whole novels on our trips to and from the grandparents house each year.

Give them something to listen to – Their music is a great place to start. Books on tape can be a helpful way to engage them. You might find these using the Audible app or at your public library. Listening with individual earphones might cut down on the bickering. Give them noise reduction earphones or earplugs while they color, play with their magnets or read, and it might also reduce the bickering.

Play games – You might keep them busy with games like the Alphabet game or Find the States game. Here are a few links for car game ideas: Best Car Games for Kids, Fun Car Games and Moms Minivan.

Sing-alongs – Car rides are a perfect time for sing-alongs. This might be to your children’s favorite CDs, or you could teach them songs that you know. I lean towards campfire songs and patriotic songs.

Conversation starters – There are several companies that make question boxes. This includes Melissa and Doug, Table Talk and American Girl’s box of questions. These are a great way to start conversations that encourage everyone to participate.

Give them elbow room – It may be helpful to seat them farther apart. If you have a third row, consider moving one of them back there. Once the oldest is 13 years old, they might move to the front seat.

Put up dividers – When all else fails, divide and conquer. For about six months, when I was in elementary school, my dad set a huge cooler in between us in the back seat. I couldn’t even see my brother, let alone bicker with him. Cardboard might be easier.

Stop the car – When all else fails, it’s fine to pull the car over and wait. However, it doesn’t help any if stopping the car is an empty threat. You’ve got to really pull over and wait them out. This is all the better if you are headed somewhere for them. My dad used this idea right before the cooler.

 

Enjoying Long Car Trips with Kids

three happy kids in the car

Each summer since the girls were little, the three of us would take two long weekend car trips. We make the five hour trip to the Outer Banks, and the nine hour trip to a family reunion in upstate New York. While we have one, I’m not a big fan of the car’s DVD player. They’ve always been allowed one movie per day on long trips, then the rest of the time is spent learning how to entertain themselves. Here’s what worked for us:

Bring supplies

  • Travel friendly art supplies – This includes a gallon bag of new crayons and several coloring books, stickers and plain paper, and Color Wonder markers and books.
  • Bag of car toys – We have two paper grocery bags in our garage packed with car toys at all times. This includes a few Woodkins doll packs with fabric, magnet dress-up dolls, houses and sceneries, a few matchbox cars and a few action figures.
  • Activity books and magazines – Activity books include Where’s Waldo, Look Alikes, Hidden Pictures, mazes, word-finds, dot-to-dots, invisible ink books, sticker books and puppet books.
  • The empty backpack – We always brought an empty backpack for collecting travel brochures, interesting placemats, menus, tickets and small souveniers.
  • Snacks – This one is an obvious must. We brought cereal cups, granola bars, bags of chips, water bottles and small juice boxes.

Play games

  • Travel board games – Many board games have a travel version. We have Trouble, Othello, Sorry and Connect Four.
  • Magnet games – Magnet games include chess and checkers, tic-tac-toe and Hangman. There’s also Wooly Willy, Hair-do Harriet and Lil Squirt magnet games.
  • Car games – Car games include the Alphabet Game, 20 Questions, the License Plate game, travel bingo, and punch buggy.

Sing-alongs and stories

  • Sing alongs – Remember all the old campfire songs “Little Rabbit in the Woods,” “On Top of Old Smoky,” “Head and Shoulders,” and “Home on the Range,” or patriotic songs like “This Land is Your Land” and “America the Beautiful” – a long car ride is the perfect time to teach these.
  • Read alouds – If it doesn’t make you car sick, a long car ride is the perfect time to read a chapter book aloud. It might be a nice time for an older sibling to read picture books aloud to a younger sibling.
  • Books on tape – In my car, these count as read alouds.
  • Family stories – This is one time of the year when you spend a few undivided hours with your family. This is the time to tell stories about your own family growing up, how you spent your summers or about traveling and vacations. This is a time to tell stories about when they were babies and growing up as well.
  • Talk games – This includes Table Talk for Kids or Melissa and Doug’s Box of Questions or American Girl’s conversation starters.

Stops along the way

  • Plan for it – On our way to the beach, we often stop for an hour at the Virginia Living Science Museum. On our way to the family reunion, we’ve stopped at Boyd’s Bears and the Corning Glass Museum.
  • Movement breaks – At least every two hours, it’s nice to stop and stretch your legs.  This may be just taking a quick walk around a rest stop, or if you plan ahead everyone could spend a few minutes tossing a beach ball or jumping rope.
  • Travel brochures – Part of trips with my younger daughter Claire is collecting travel brochures. She likes to look through the pictures and plan stops along the way. When we can, we take small detours to check out places from the brochures. For sure, this is how we found Mr. Sticky’s cinnamon buns in Pennsylvania.
  • Scenic stops – This would be my dad’s favorite and there’s no planning required. It’s nice to stop and scenic overlooks and historical landmarks.

Tips to Enjoy Eating Out with Children

Family eating together in a restaurant

I have always loved eating out with the kids. Yes, there have been stressful times as Alicen threw up a LOT when she was two and three years old. And yes, occasionally we’ve had to cut things short over behavior or exhaustion. That said, eating out can be a very pleasant experience with children at any age.

There are several basic things to consider when choosing a restaurant with young children.

  • Kid friendly – Some children need more practice than others at learning to speak quietly and sit at a table. The idea is to start at very kid friendly restaurants. With little ones, we go to restaurants like Chili’s where it is okay if they are occasionally loud.
  • Kids’ menu – It may be helpful to check out menus online or to call ahead and ask about menu options. The best kid’s menus we’ve seen are at Legal Seafood and Firefly. Other times we just order them extra plates, and then split off our own.
  • Things to do – It can be so helpful when a restaurant offers some activities. Bertucci’s offers kids dough to play with, Macaroni Grill lets them draw on the paper table cloth and Cracker Barrel has the peg game and five page coloring book menus.
  • Things to look at –  In our area, Mango Mikes has a huge fish tank that children can see from the dining room or up close if their parents walk them near the bar. The National Gallery of Art Cascade Café has a waterfall outside a picture window to look at and moving walkway for something to do. The Rainforest Café has an amazing amount to look at.
  • Kids’ area –  Some restaurants go as far as having a kids’ area. This can be a play area like at IKEA or Generous George’s, or a seating area like at Paradiso. Paradiso has a kids’ room where children sit at small picnic table and eat while watching Disney movies on a big screen TV while parents have a nice meal in the next room. While this defeats the social piece and learning to sit with parents, it’s another fun option.
  • Kids’ trinkets – Mango Mikes has a wall full of party favor type toys for children to pick from. Stardust gave little plastic figures on their drinks. We grew a collection of their mermaids and elephants.
  • Plan to walk around – Sitting through the meal itself can be a long stretch for little ones. If you go in planning to walk around the restaurant or even outside with them once before and once after the meal, it may help them to sit longer and make the experience less frustrating.

Activity bag – It can be helpful to carry a “restaurant bag” in your car at all times. This is a bag that has small notebooks and pencils, stickers, small Playdoh and a few party-favor toys. This bag only comes out once menu items have been chosen, goes away when the food comes and can be available again once they eat. The trick is to not have it available at other times like when you are stuck in traffic. If they get to play with it other times, it likely won’t hold their attention in the restaurant.

Conversation WITH them – This is probably the most important point, spend your time speaking with your children. At any age, include them in the conversation. Ask them questions and share your time. Teach them that meals are a pleasant and social time.

Contribution during – Contribution in general is giving children jobs related to a transition or other daily function. At home, this includes them matching cups to lids or taking drink orders when you are making dinner. At a restaurant, this might include them folding and refolding napkins, buttering rolls, passing food or putting food on a fork for you.

Sit at a booth – If your kids are often up and down from the table, a booth might be helpful so you can box them in.

Sit outside – If it’s available, sitting outside tends to give kids lots to look at and others may be more forgiving of noise.

Plan dinner on the early side – Eating late, children are more likely to be tired and hungry which is a recipe for disaster. It’s better to go early when everyone is fresh.

Plan, Do, Review for Summer Outings

Plan-Do-Review is a piece of HighScope preschool curriculum. Plan-Do-Review builds children’s vocabulary and supports concept development through repetition and focus on goal setting and follow through. In the preschool classroom, children might plan during circle time by telling their teacher what they will do during center time. In our classes we ask children to tell us their plan with at least one detail and a second activity if they finish the first. The ‘do’ happens when children are in centers. Teachers might visit with children and have conversation that highlights the ongoing activity. Teachers might provide running commentary about children’s efforts and progress. After centers, children then review with their teachers by describing what they just did or presenting what they accomplished.

This is an easy idea to replicate at home, especially around outings and travel. If a beach trip is coming up, the plan might include checking out library books about the beach, building sandcastles in the backyard sandbox and looking at pictures from last year’s beach trip in the photo album. The ‘do’ includes the whole day at the beach, playing in the waves, digging in the sand and talking about all the things your child is doing and seeing. The review includes making seashell art with all you collected, calling Grandma and telling her about the day and making a new scrapbook page together. The idea is to introduce and discuss the topic and details before, during and after.

Involve the Kids in Summer Travel

Summer is a great time to travel with the kids. There are lots of ways to slide in education and benefit the child’s skill set without dampening the fun!

  • Plan-Do-Review – If you are headed to the beach next week, start planning with kids now by visiting the area’s websites, searching nearby attractions and making a plan for activities with your child. Planning also includes reading related children’s storybooks or looking at pictures from previous trips. The ‘do’ part is when you are there; check through your planned list, talk about all the things they are doing and seeing and keep scrap book items and brochures from everywhere you go. For older kids this could include journaling or taking videos. The Review is calling grandma to tell her in as much detail as possible about the trip, making scrap book pages or writing a story about the trip.
  • Give them Jobs – Once a child is three years old, they can help with packing by running to get simple items. Older children can be in charge of mapping the route or writing the itinerary. In the car, younger children can be the look out to “find” restaurants and gas stations, and older children can be navigators and mark milage.
  • Focus on Local – Research local foods and local traditions together. Take part in what you can. Be sure to note local vocabulary.
  • Review and Plan Each Night – Each night review the highlights of the day and list one or two plans for the next.
  • Be Flexible and Child Focused – I’ve found some of our best stops are unplanned, often found along the way. More than once on long car trips, we’ve been sidetracked by my younger daughter picking up an interesting brochure for a Children’s Museum or restaurant (Mr. Sticky’s Buns) at a rest stop.

Join me to discuss these ideas and several others at my workshop on Traveling with Children on Thursday June 21st. For more information and to register, please visit http://www.eventbrite.com/org/283710166?s=1328924.

Travel Potty Training Tips

Before you start potty training, it is beneficial to consider what you are going to do about the process when you are away from home. The first is to consider the potty itself. There are folding seats that fit on potties, folding stand-alone options, blow-up options and full-size floor potties available. Whatever you choose, it’s good to have your child use it a few times at home before taking it on the road.

In the weeks leading up to potty training, it can be helpful to start pointing out potties when you are out. Show them that there are potties at Target, or take a tour of bathrooms at Grandma’s house. This lets them know there are potties everywhere and people use them.

If you are planning a big trip in the next month, it may be best to wait until after to dive into potty training. The more consistent you can be the better, and it’s tough to expect a newly trained child to be successful at DisneyLand.

To be safe, carry a full change of clothes with you for a year after potty training. There will be accidents. We actually carried a change of clothes for each child in the car for several years. You never know when a big mud puddle will be the best playground entertainment.

More Car Games

I have been thinking since the last post of all the additional ways we keep the kids engaged on road trips. Here are a few more ideas:

  • Collect as You Go – Bring an extra backpack to let children collect ticket stubs, receipts, brochures, maps and souvenirs as you go. This can be a treasure trove of supplies for scrapbooking or other art projects after the trip.
  • Pick up Brochures – I know I mentioned brochures, but they deserve their own bullet point. This is especially true if you stop at a hotel lobby or rest stop that has a wall of brochures. Encourage your children to take a copy of all that look appealing. These can provide a few hours of quiet reading and conversation. They might also spark a detour to a local museum or bakery (Mr. Sticky’s in Williamsport PA on our last trip – amazing!).
  • Have a Navigator – I know most cars have an electronic navigator, but there are good life skills in teaching your older child to read and follow a map and calculate mileage, distances and times for travel.
  • Bring a Child-Friendly Digital Camera – A camera or video camera that you allow your children to use can do wonders for long car trips. Let them take 100s of pictures then print a few of their favorites to document. We have a few creative videos my then bored nine-year-old took from the back seat of the mini-van that are priceless.

Car Games

On long roadtrips, it can be tempting to let kids plug-in to their i-pods or watch movies all day. I tend to think the car is the perfect place to connect with each other, you have a captive audience. Here are a few ideas to get you started.

  • Play Games – 20 Questions, Punch Buggy, the License Plate Game, the Alphabet Game, Packing for Grandma’s, Add-a-Sentence Stories
  • Sing-Alongs – With young children, this is preschool and campfire songs. I loved relearning patriotic songs like America the Beautiful and folk songs like Puff the Magic Dragon as my girls hit elementary school. Now we have top 40 and alternative rock sing-alongs with the radio.
  • Books on Tape – This counts as reading aloud time and can be very enjoyable if you find a book that appeals to the whole family. We started with the Winnie the Pooh Classics Collection and have worked our way through Judy Moody.
  • Bring Car Toys – We keep a bag of toys on the shelf in the garage that are just for long trips. If they are available at other times, they won’t last long in the car. This includes travel board games, magnet dress-up dolls and playscenes, a foam tic-tac-toe board, travel bingo, woodkins and a rubics cube.
  • Bring Car-Friendly Art Supplies – Think notebooks, pens and pencils, crayons and coloring books, Colorwonder markers by Crayola and scratchpaper.
  • Bring New Magazines – The kids get several magazines including Cricket, National Geographic Kids, the American Girl magazine and Highlights. When these come in the mail, they go immediately in the seat pocket for roadtrips.

Please comment and share your best ways to keep them connected on roadtrips!

Traveling Away from Children

Dear Dr. Rene,

I am traveling alone at the early part of December and again in January. The first trip is to visit my sister who is ill and following treatment. The second trip is work related. I will be gone a week for each trip and have only been away from the girls once before. They are now three-and-a-half and almost five years old. The first trip out of town for work was two years ago, and it was difficult all around. How and when should I tell my girls?  Should I tell them together? How much do I tell them? What are things I could do to make this time go faster or easier for them? I too am having a hard time getting ready and making these trips. I am feeling anxious and overwhelmed at the separation and find it a difficult task. Then, I think about all the other moms of the world who travel regularly and wonder in amazement, how do they do that? Any insight and suggestions would be appreciated!

Sincerely,

Cristina, mother of two

Dear Cristina,

I know this can be difficult. The idea is to prepare them without overpreparing them. It is plenty to tell them just a few days before. Have a simple few sentences ready about where and why you are going, when you are leaving, how long you’ll be gone and most importantly who will be taking care of them. Be ready for the upsets and questions. If they are upset, give lots of empathy and talk them through. Answer all of their questions honest but small. Try to shift the follow-up conversation a bit to where they will be and who will be caring for them during the time. If there is anything fun planned for them during the time, highlight that as well. I tend to tell my children things together as they help each other. If your’s are particularly dramatic or tend to work each other up, it is fine to speak with each separately.

You might help them by teaching them to use a simple calendar to count down the days you will be gone. You can practice this next week with the Thanksgiving holiday. If you are all traveling or having houseguests for a few days or even just all home from work for a few days, draw a square for each day. Draw a picture in each square to represent something from the day and have them cross off each day when they go to sleep at night. For example, Grandma is visiting Wednesday through Saturday. The calendar would be four squares with a picture of grandma arriving in the first square, turkey in the second, a museum trip in the third and grandma leaving in the last. Each night during the visit, have them cross off a square. Make one of these for each of your trips.

You might also make them each a small photo album with a few pictures of you with each of them and a few of them with other relatives. It is a nice thing for children to have pictures readily available when a parent is away. You might also introduce the family to email and Skype. It would likely help if you can send notes or pictures each day and spend a bit of time on the phone or skyping with them while you are gone. If you were going to be gone longer than a week, you might also send postcards or small gifts in the mail. A little more effort, you could record them a few of their favorite or even some new books on tape.

As much as you feel overwhelmed and anxious, try to put on your brave and confident face when you are talking with them about this. If they are upset themselves and see your tears and lip quivering, it may add to the sense of panic. In general, I am all about sharing emotions openly with children, and I think you can let them know you are sad, but you want to be sure you are able to send comforting messages and the sense that this is a solid plan rather than adding your own sense of doubt.

In genreal it is good for children to have normalcy during times of change, so it’s good to keep them on a relatively similar schedule as to when you are home. Plan for them to attend school regularly. That said, around their normal activity, I would try to build in one special thing for them to do late in the week. Maybe their caregiver could take them to a movie or out for a dessert on Friday. You might also encourage the caregiver to help the girls plan a welcome home for you such as a special dinner or outing. This gives them things to look forward to and distracts them a bit.

I hope this helps.

Sincerely,  Dr. Rene

Planning Summer Travel Tips

Summer travel is coming up, and if your trips are big, it may be time to start planning. As early as three years old, there can be benefits in including children in the planning process. Here are some ideas to get you started:

  • Find child friendly outings near your destination spots. Whether you are headed to the beach or the theme park, look for area museums, zoos and aquariums. You may need a break from the planned activity or find yourself with a rainy day. Last summer we had a rainy day and found a two hour scenic train ride through the countryside.

 

  • If traveling by car, find child friendly outings along the way. Especially for long trips, it can be helpful to plan real breaks. Stop and take in a picnic at a playground or walk through a museum. Bring physical activities like balls and jump ropes for shorter stops.

 

 

  • Set aside a bag to collect brochures, menus, tickets, receipts and other memorabilia from the trip. Some of this can add to the scrap book with photos, the rest is just fun to collect.

 

 

  • For the destination itself, visit websites in the months before and encourage your children to explore and plan their time. Before our trip to Disney, our children each picked a restaurant and a show they wanted to go to and see during our time in the park.

 

 

  • If possible, check out books about the destination. Learn about the history, culture and food of the area with your children.

 

 

  • If you’ve made this trip before, talk with your children often about the last trip. Talk about their favorite times and what they hope to do again. If available, review the photos

 

 

  • If traveling by car, start collecting a bag of travel toys. This can be small new things or things they haven’t seen in a while. In our bag we carry woodkins, magnet board games, colorwonder markers and paper, a few polly pockets, matchbox cars, travel bingo and lacing cards.

 

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