“Are we there yet?” My children asked me 40 minutes after we left the house to go to Disney; our 3½ hour away destination…..
Saying “we are going to Disney!!!” wasn’t enough for my kids….. the excitement about our trip faded 40 minutes into it and I had to start pulling out my OT (occupational therapy) tricks. If you feel my pain but want to find the joy while traveling with your kids this summer, try to keep on reading. Whether you are traveling by car or by plane this little tips might just make things easier during your journey.
- As with many other activities, children who have sensory difficulties do better when they know what’s about to happen. The unexpected is not easy to handle for our children, especially now that is the summer and schedules everything but steady. So my first advice is to explain what to expect. Let them know how long will the ride be, that they’ll have to wait in some lines, if you are going to stop in rest areas, if you will have lunch in the car or at the airport, that his bag will have its picture taken, or that they will be on a plane with a lot of other people so they will have to be extra quiet. If your child is particularly sensitive to touch, hearing, smells or crows in general; let them know that there will be a lot of that which he is uncomfortable with. Then pack his favorite comfort item (something that smells, feels or sounds how they like it) and ask him to keep you informed of his feelings. If you start noticing signs of hypersensitivity, if he tells you that something is too much, or if he starts engaging in rough activities or being too physical; analyze what might be the cause for the behavior. Then, if at all possible, give him his comfort object, help him get some proprioceptive input or deep touch input (by hugging him, playing resistive games with his hands or giving him very chewy snacks) and try (to the best of your ability) to minimize the threatening input.
- Plan to keep them busy the majority of the time. Either with a snack, a book, stuffed animals, Etch a Sketch, coloring or by playing I-Spy games. The idea is to constantly offer something new to do, every time you notice her getting bored from one activity offer her another one that is different in nature from the previous one. For example, if she was coloring a book and lost interest offer her to play a rhyming game, or I-spy, as opposed to give her a book to read.
- We all know our children move…. And they move a LOT! So it becomes very difficult not being bothered by his jitters, especially when they are now bothering the stranger seating in front of you, or his sister sitting next to him in the car. If you have tried all activities mentioned above and he has not yet found peace, is time to give him a movement break. Ask the flight attendant if it’s OK to walk around with your child mid-flight or make the next stop at a rest area. Choose a fast-food restaurant that has a playground or a rest stop that has picnic tables so you can eat outside and burn off some energy. If this is impossible, try to have a “head dance contest” with your child. Play some music through earphones and make silly head moves to the tunes. Another strategy is to play “hug myself”. In this game he will hug his bent legs for a count of 10 and then relax, then he will hug his own chest for a count of 10 and then relax, finally he will “hug” his head for 10 and relax.
- One of the most important advises I can give you right now is to let go and give your child a sense of control. Have her chose some of the games you will take, give her choices of what to carry, have her help you make the schedule for the day (if you already have plans, ask her to choose from a list of your planned activities) and try to follow it. If she is enjoying something and you can, skip the next activity. Stick with what’s successful.
- If traveling by air, check all baggage except for your “bag of tricks,” purse, and a backpack of toys and snacks that your child can wear. Carry-ons can be tricky when trying to hold a little one’s hand and navigate security and narrow plane aisles.
- Navigating airport security is always stressful but it doesn’t have to be. Leave yourself extra time, so if there is an anxious person behind you in line, offer to let him or her go first. Take your time, have your child place his backpack in the x-ray machine and have him look at the pictures of the bags in the monitor while he waits for you to get your shoes on and gather all our items. Kids under 12 no longer have to take their shoes off. Yay!
- Even if you normally stick to nutritious meals, have a snack ready during take-off and landing. Trade a toy you need to put away at the end of the flight for a snack (that will also help relieve ear pressure). Try to choose chewy or hard to chew snacks such as raw nuts, beagle pieces, dried fruit or thick pretzel rods.
- Finally, when you get to your destination, schedule age-appropriate activities. Tune into your children’s interests and plan accordingly. Does he love dinosaurs? Visit the museum of natural history. Is she into sports? Consider a minor league baseball game. Most cities have children’s museums that are packed with fun activities.