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Decoding Your Child’s Travel Meltdowns

by Susan Finch

May 17, 2018

© Olesia Bilkei | Dreamstime.com

Age Specific / Kids

Just because you’re traveling doesn’t mean your kids won’t be prone to the same moods and crankiness as at home. There’s no such thing as a vacation from bad moods. In fact, chances are high your kids save those epic meltdowns for the road when you can’t do much but suffer through it in the car or the confines of a plane with 150 strangers giving you icy stares.

The good news is there is an unofficial science, or at least a lot of discerning, that goes into full-blown kid meltdowns. Here’s how to decode your child’s travel meltdowns and stop them in their tracks.

Look for Warning Signs

Most kids don’t just melt down without a lot of heads up and warning time. Of course, it can be harder to see those signs when you’re traveling and distracted. Plus, some kids may have slightly different warning signs on the road. After all, they can’t get hyper and run around right before a meltdown when they’re belted down. Keep your mind on high alert for any subtle irritabilities and changes in behavior and monitor how fast it’s spiraling. If you can get on top of it quickly, you’re likely to avoid a full-scale, code red temper tantrum.

Offer Sustenance

Kids don’t always have a big appetite while traveling because they’re having too much fun or just aren’t burning through enough calories while sitting in the car. If your child seems irritable and meltdowns are trending, offer some sustenance early and often. Start with something they’ll likely eat without protest like a fruit snack or sugar-free sucker and move on to nuts, fruits and healthy snacks to get their blood sugar and mood back in check.

family at breakfast in the hotel

© Denis Mishchenko | Dreamstime.com

Give Comfort

Traveling is stressful even for the grown-ups, so don’t expect your child not to have some good old-fashioned blues on your next family vacation. Little ones are also prone to homesickness and may need more attention and comfort than usual. Offer lots of hugs, bring along a special toy or stuffed animal and think of the little things. Letting them choose the movie at the hotel or offering a bubble bath and the fluffy grown-up robe can do wonders to extend some comfort.

Play Super Sleuth

Kids don’t always know what’s ailing them, no matter how many times you ask. Whether you’ve got a toddler or a teenager, the answer is frequently, “I don’t know,” when you ask a kid what’s wrong. Instead ask super specific questions that can lead to the answer you’re looking for.

“Does your head hurt?” or “Is your stomach tight” or even, “Are you thinking about home or something you miss?” can often lead down the trail to your answer. And if you come up empty, chances are high they’re just bored, remedied with a few boredom busters.

Bring Boredom Busters

It’s easy to forget travel is just kind of boring some of the time. There’s a lot of waiting around to get places and an endless game of hurry up and wait. Bring along boredom busters that span across car trip to attractions and rainy days in the hotel. A charged-up device with educational games is one place to start, but even electronics get boring and can also backfire and make kids feel complacent and cranky. Pack up coloring and game books, mess-free paints and markers and audio books, and plan little stops at weird roadside attractions or playgrounds to keep kids feeling happy and inspired.


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