Happy Trails: Traveling With Your Sensitive Child / by Laura Kett

“Don’t make me eat this! You stink and you’re squishing me! This is taking too long!”

Don’t these exclamations make you wish you had never left home?  That’s what your child is probably wishing, too.  Chaos, no personal bubble, changing schedules, different foods, and new smells can make a sensitive child anxious and uncomfortable.  And, because sensitive souls are usually pretty expressive, (in one way or another) they share their feelings clearly with the whole family.  They may be short with you, moody, resistant, crabby, or just plain scream.  Are we having fun, yet?

Here are 10 tips for traveling with sensitive souls which may make for a more enjoyable vacation:

1-      Let your child know what is happening tomorrow.  Go over it verbally, use a calendar, make a list, draw pictures, and develop it into a story.  Sensitive souls do not like surprises and prefer predictable routines.

2-      With your child helping, gather their favorite things and tuck them into their backpack.  At least these items will be familiar and hopefully comforting.

3-      Bring some favorite foods.  This is especially important if their list of “favorites” is limited.

4-      Use clocks or timers to give them an idea of “how long” - or maps for “how far.”

5-      Use music and headphones. Music often helps to sooth and regulate those moods!

6-      Give breaks:  breathe, stretch, give “space” breaks, a walk (even on a plane).

7-      Minimize your list of “must do, must see” in the interest of all of you.

8-      Consider what your child generally responds to for calming – fidgets, drawing, reading, and manipulatives like putty or squeeze balls can all help to relieve stress.

9-      Gather pictures prior to the trip of what you will see - and if you are going to visit people, try to get pictures of them also. This helps set expectations.

10-   Let them bring their own camera! You can review the day using the photos as talking points (aren’t you glad you live in a digital age?).

These tips are all things in which you have some control.  Try to look at the trip through their eyes.  Process with your child all of the things that are staying the same (family, favorite object, car, clothes) and what will be different (where they sleep, some food, what they see).  Preplanning can help your child start in a calmer state for when you encounter the unexpected or changes over which you have no control. 

Here’s to an enjoyable vacation for all!