(Everybody Sing)…To Grandmothers House We Go!

The Harley Hopkins Family Center tends to be very quiet during the weeks around the holidays.  Though many staff are still working, the families we serve have embarked on their own festive adventures. When everyone returns to class, there are often many different kinds of stories being told: funny, nostalgic, frustrated and joyful. During these months, parents trade tips about traveling with children, how to navigate another person’s home, and how to help a child adjust to wildly different schedules.  The early childhood staff wanted to offer a concise list of our best advice for how to handle a family holiday trip.

Travel by car: Everyone can agree that traveling long hours in the car with children can often feel like slogging through mashed potatoes–slow going and often pretty messy. If you are planning on driving a long distance, also plan on a realistic time frame for the length of the trip.  The children will surely need to stop at inopportune times, and surely each child in the car will feel the need to go to the bathroom at completely different intervals. Take these rest stops into serious consideration when you are thinking about your estimated time of arrival.

  • Plan the rest stops into the trip, and allow your family to let out some energy during these pit stops.  Let the kids run and play or just sit outside the car and have a snack.  These refreshing breaks will likely help everyone persevere through the long hours.
  • Having a bag of never-seen-before activities on hand for the long hours is also a great idea.  These do not have to be expensive or fancy new toys, simple items that will hold interest for a certain amount of time will help you and your child move across the miles.
  • Pack an extra T-Shirt for yourself. Parents undoubtedly catch all of the travel messes, and if you have an extra shirt you can arrive at your destination fresh.
  • Bring snacks. You can not count on stores or restaurants being open or available when your child gets hungry.

Travel by airplane:

  • Airline websites have up-to-the-minute information on security and procedural rules (such as packed breastmilk or strollers or car seats). Be sure to check it out before arriving at the airport.
  • Take a bag of never-seen-before activities with you. Simple toys that will hold your child’s interest.
  • Take an umbrella stroller with you to help you maneuver through the airport. People may be more helpful to you when they see you have a stroller.
  • Pack an extra T-Shirt for yourself. Parents undoubtedly catch all of the travel messes, and if you have an extra shirt you can arrive at your destination fresh.
  • Bring snacks. You can not count on the airline providing anything to eat during your flight.
  • To help with ears popping during landing and take-off, have your child drink from a bottle or cup. That should help to keep their ears clear.

Staying at another person’s house:

  • Contact your host before the trip and ask them to purchase what you need so you don’t have to lug it there yourself. Diapers take up a lot of luggage space! Don’t forget to pay them back upon your arrival.
  • Have a discussion with your hosts about bringing your children into their home. Find ways to address their concerns beforehand.
  • If the hosts are worried about breakable items in their home, ask them to consider putting the items out of sight or on a high shelf.
  • If you are wondering about how your child’s behavior may be perceived by your hosts, discuss what you see as the issue before you arrive in their home. Be proactive in talking about what you and your child are working on as it concerns social behavior. A good way to approach this subject is to say “We are working on the rules, but they aren’t quite there yet.”
  • Some items you may want to consider bringing: shade material for windows (available at fabric stores), white noise machine or app, rubber sheet or other water-proof material for the beds if you fear there may be a bed wetting incident, the child’s own pillow–this familiar item can help bring comfort and easier sleep.
  • Discuss your expectations for behavior with your children.  Be clear about what you expect of them.  Be realistic about what you ask for.
  • Rules at the homes of others can be more lax than in your own household. Balance the need for behavior expectations with the flexibility that a trip away from home requires. There can sometimes be a certain amount of wisdom in surrendering. Ask yourself: “Is this harming my child, or just irritating me?”  Children generally understand that the rules are being bent because of the special-ness of the trip.
  • If a situation occurs where you need to advocate for yourself, your family or your child, don’t feel guilty about it. State your position honestly. Use sentences that begin with “I”, rather than “you”.
  • Some sense of familiarity can be truly comforting to the child who is asked to acclimate to a completely different environment for a number of days. Find ways to ensure familiarity and routine without over-burdening your suitcase–a favorite blanket or pillow, or favorite books or “loveys” (stuffed animals of special significance) can provide reassurance for the child.
  • Talk with your child about the hustle and bustle of holiday get-togethers. Find a place in the hosts’ home that will provide a quiet space, and plan into your day a chance to go there. Find time during the day to spend one-on-one time doing quiet activities with your child, in order to counter-balance the energy and noise that surround you both.
  • Do not assume that the children in the house will easily get along. Be an active observer of the children’s play. Get an organized activity going for the children by bringing out board games, or encouraging a game of catch outside, or providing craft supplies for a quiet afternoon.
  • Create a plan with your children around what to do if there is an argument or fight during play. Help them to understand that it is all right for them to come to you if things are not going well with the group’s play.
  • This family trip is really just a small amount of time–whether it is a day or a weekend or a longer stay. Don’t try to pack too much in to the stay.
  • If you feel inclined, create traditions for your own family in your own home as well as spending some time away. There is no “one time only” chance to enjoy special moments with your family.

Here is a fun holiday idea: Write the names of all the people present in your party on separate pieces of paper. During the time that you are together, have each person write a word that positively describes or a phrase that shows appreciation for the person named at the top of the paper. Children who are not yet able to write can dictate to an adult what they want to contribute to describe each person.  During a time that the group is all together–perhaps during a meal–read off the lists about each person.

The holiday season is a chance to celebrate with the people you choose to be with. Find ways to relax and enjoy each other, and create traditions which will help your children cherish the memories they will have.

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