Living Better – Traveling with Active Children

Written by Joshua Minnie on . No Comments

Traveling with Active
Children – Make the Trip a Journey

Not many thoughts inspire terror in the hearts of parents as
much as the idea of a long car (or plane or train…) trip with their kids. “Are
we there yet?….He/she is touching me!….I have to go to the bathroom……My
batteries died….Why does he/she get to sit in the back?….I feel sick” and so on.

Family trips are suppose to be fun, bonding
experiences.  Family vacations are meant
to be relaxing and refreshing, creating great memories for all.  Many times though, they start and end on a
stressful, unpleasant note, especially if you have very active or hyperactive

Active kids can be described as restless and
fidgety.  They tend to be more curious
and explore more than other kids their age.
Hyperactive (ADHD) kids have difficulty concentrating on one active for
more than a couple of minutes at a time.
Often, hyperactive kids have difficulty learning.  All that being said, kids, particularly young
ones are active by nature…it’s why ADHD is not typically diagnosed until at
least age 5.  An estimated 3 to 5 percent
of all pre-school and school age children have ADHD. If you suspect your child
might have ADHD talk to your family physician. They can refer you to a child
psychiatrist who will be able to diagnose and treat ADHD.

child is “hyper” sometimes.  Some
situations even set them up to be so excited. Vacation is certainly one of
those times.  For kids that are active or
hyperactive it escalates their already active behavior.  The good news is you can anticipate and plan
for these times. You can help everyone enjoy the trip and set the tone for a
more enjoyable “ride.”

parents have figured out by the time their kids are toddlers that kids do
better when they have a routine.  Since
vacations tend to be times when routines are broken it important to try and
maintain as many as possible.  Before
vacation, establish a travel routine every time you go some where. Perhaps it
involves making sure everyone has gone to the bathroom and has their favorite
healthy snack, drink and snuggly toy.
Seats that are “assigned” become that child’s space and a place for them
to store and access toys, games and books. The day before you travel have them
setup and organize that space.  Keep to naptimes and meal times as much as
possible.  Being well rested and eating
well make everyone cope better and feel better.
Diet (particularly certain food such as those high in sugar) and
caffeine are important factors which can increase or decrease the attention
span and activity level of a child.

your kids in the creation of a travel plan will help them feel ownership and
remove some of the anxiety of not knowing when and what is going to happen. Give them a job like time-keeper – the
person who watches the clock and indicates when it is time to do something like
stop for lunch. Provide an environment where you can say “yes” to them instead
of “no”.  Instead of “are we there yet?”
they know when you expect to arrive and can say “We are two hours away, lets make
one more rest stop,” allowing them to play a part in making the when happen.

Make the trip a journey by stopping at fun
places along the way.  Be sure to build
breaks into the plan. Anticipate the eventual bathroom and meal breaks and do a
bit of research before hand to find fun places to stop – better yet include
your kids in the research and planning.
Perhaps there is a national park where you can run and explore or throw
a ball around?  Maybe it’s stopping to
see the world’s largest swing set or the critter barn with the two headed
snake. Make the stop a “two-fer,” creating a memory while getting rid of some
excess energy.  Make the side-trip part
of the journey, part of the vacation.

DVD players, handheld electronic games and
other electronics are a huge part of this generation’s self-soothing skill set.
Headphones can be a particular blessing – providing peace for all
occupants!  How about a personal set of
ear-plugs for everyone to act as a silencer to help reduce or eliminate
annoyances? A couple of caveats: don’t depend exclusively on one strategy to
make the trip pleasant. A variety of books, games, electronics and snacks will
make the trip more enjoyable for everyone.
are meant to stimulate the senses of sight, hearing, smell, taste, touch,
temperature, and movement.   The trick is to keep the stimulation
pleasant, nonthreatening and nontoxic as much of the time as possible.
Help the participants think about what makes them most comfortable in terms of
their “senses”.

someone is dependant on electronics for self soothing, have them pack a backup
set of batteries, electronic car charger or converter.  Old school travel
aides like books on tape or listening to the local radio station, and card
games can buy 30 minutes to several hours of shared family fun.  I will always
remember listening to “Because of Winn Dixie” as a book on tape
during a road trip to Mississippi, just like I
remember the side trip to see the fish that drank out of a baby bottle at the
steamship museum in Ohio, and the Natural Bridge
in West Virginia
side trip, and so on.

modeling consideration and hospitality can be a challenge or it can be like a
game where Simon says:  “Now it’s time to just BE NICE because it’s
good for you and me!”   This happens instantly when you slow
down.  Try it: slow down your rate and volume of speaking.  Notice
how your breathing slows down.  As your breathing slows, notice that your
heart rate slows. Now slow down your pace of movement.  Wow, feeling
relaxed?  Hmmm, sounds like a nice way to start a vacation.  Have

Additional information, resources, and

MD is a child and adult psychiatrist at Pine
Rest Christian Mental Health System in Grand
Rapids, Michigan.

Dr. King’s clinical experience includes child inpatient and outpatient, as well
as adult inpatient and outpatient psychiatry. Dr. King specializes in the
treatment of Depression, Anxiety, ADHD, and Developmental Delays across the
Life Span.

Dr. Carolyn King