How To Make Traveling Easier on Kids Who Struggle With Anxiety
Traveling allows families to spend quality time together creating memories that last a lifetime. However, children who suffer from anxiety often find traveling to be difficult and unenjoyable. This unhappiness filters throughout the entire family turning a vacation into a nightmare. If you have a child with anxiety, know that travel is still possible with the right mindset and a solid plan.
Be Open About Your Child’s Special Needs Due to Anxiety
This is where your mindset needs to be rooted in reality. Your child has anxiety and it will make travel more challenging. Knowing and accepting this makes everything easier from this point forward. In addition to your acceptance of the anxiety, be sure to be open about your child’s needs when planning your vacation. Many businesses, restaurants, hotels, airlines, and theme parks will do what they can to make your experience positive.
I cannot stress this enough...plan ahead. Of course, this takes away the spontaneity of the trip, but it will lessen the anxiety for your child. You do not need to give exact minute by minute details, but make sure that your child knows the dates in which you will be traveling, how you will be traveling, what type of accommodations will be in place once you arrive, and what a typical day will include (sightseeing, sitting at the beach, hiking, etc.).
There are many ways to make this planning process exciting. Read books about traveling, buy special toys for the car or plane ride, talk about activities your child looks forward to doing while traveling, and look through travel brochures or websites showing similar locations to the one you will be visiting.
Bring Too Much “Stuff” (whenever possible)
Just like planning ahead lessens anxiety, bringing the comforts of home can decrease anxiety in your child while traveling. No matter how or where you travel, items brought from home will be limited. Here are recommendations of what to bring from home whenever possible:
Any potential needs from the medicine cabinet- Having these items on hand can quickly ease an anxious child, as anxiety often makes children more sensitive to feelings of sickness or injury. By having pain reliever, band-aids, itch cream, or ear pain medicine on hand, you save yourself from a child’s potential meltdown or unexpected trips to the store.
Familiar drinks and snacks- Providing familiar food during the trip can make an anxious child feel more at home and lessen the battle of trying new foods. Depending on where you travel, these items may be easy to purchase upon your arrival. However, some places may not sell the same brand as your child is used to enjoying.
Extra clothes- Anxiety is often tied to sensory issues, making clothing battles common. Comfortable clothes must always be available. Wet bathing suits or dirty clothes can be a trigger for anxious children. If a washing machine is not easily accessible during your vacation, make sure to pack enough clothes to avoid any issues.
When choosing a place to stay during the vacation, always look for or ask about the floor plan/layout, finding one that you know will help make your child comfortable. Bring as many items from home as possible to keep the consistency for your child. Do your best to stick with your typical bedtime routine.
Eating out is often a part of vacationing. Ask restaurants to seat you in out of the way locations if your child struggles with noise or crowds. A great way to avoid crowds is to eat dinner early in the evening, often during “early bird hours”. This allows your family to enjoy the restaurant with fewer distractions. An added plus is that many restaurants reduce their prices during this period of time so are saving money as well.
Plan for Down Time
An anxious child often needs some downtime in the afternoon. The best situation is to plan an activity or outing for the morning, followed by some quiet time in the afternoon, and then go out again in the evening. This breaks the day up, allowing everyone to enjoy what the vacation destination offers but will not lead to exhaustion. It is important to not allow an anxious child to get worn out or tired because this can trigger anxiety. Of course, in order to enjoy as much of your destination as possible, you may have to spend longer periods of time exploring. When this happens, plan for a quiet evening.
Suggestions for Traveling by plane
When traveling by plane, it is important to plan ahead and let the airlines know about your child’s anxiety. This can allow your family an opportunity to board early. There tends to be more open and available space in the back of the plane. By finding seats that are potentially less crowded, you can offer some more space to your child. The back of the plane also offers convenient space for standing and moving and easy access to the bathrooms when allowed.
Bring new and exciting toys for your child to use during the plane flight. These should be items that your child has not had access to prior to the flight. This allows for the added excitement of something new. Of course, bring plenty of your child’s favorite snacks, toys, books, and movies as well.
No matter how big or small your child’s anxiety levels are, your family can travel and create memories together. Through well thought out preparations and the kindness of strangers, you can create memories all around the world.
Written by: Colleen Wildenhaus
Colleen Wildenhaus is the mother of a 13-year-old girl suffering from severe anxiety and OCD. Her blog Good Bye Anxiety, Hello Joy shares with readers the journey her family takes to enjoy the small moments each day, keeping the beast of anxiety from taking away the joy of life.
Colleen became frustrated with medical and self-help books available to parents; while they offered suggestions, many were out of touch with reality. Through her blog, she shares the day to day struggles of parenting a child with anxiety, offering guidance, encouragement, and hope to parents.
In addition to being a mother and writer, Colleen is a former elementary teacher who holds two Master’s Degrees in Education and a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology. She draws from her expertise as an educator to coach parents and teachers in ways to make school successful for children with anxiety.
Beyond writing, Colleen finds happiness in life’s simple joys — her children’s laughter, waves crashing on the beach, the wide-eyed excitement when students experience an “ah-ha!” moment, and fresh baked cookies.
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