Travelling With Kids: How to handle a child’s mood swings on a trip

No matter how old the child (with the exception of infants), you must try to speak to them at consistent intervals before the travel actually begins. They should be aware of an upcoming journey and the mode of transport you will be using.

By Deenaz Raisinghani

We often see parents trying their best to calm a howling child at the airport or yelling at them when they are not ready to sleep on a flight or a train. From my travel experience, I have outlined some pointers that will help parents tackle these issues head on and have an enjoyable travelling experience with their kids:

How to handle car journeys without tantrums

No matter how old the child (with the exception of infants), you must try to speak to them at consistent intervals before the travel actually begins. They should be aware of an upcoming journey and the mode of transport you will be using. If it is a road trip, tell them the duration, the name of the destination and the terrain you will be passing through. Give them a couple of days to pick out the stuff they think they will need to entertain themselves throughout this journey.

If the kid will likely be on the car seat for a long time, establish rules for pee breaks and food breaks. Some kids that do not like to be strapped up while travelling often start bawling to get their parents’ attention. Keeping some mess-free stuff handy for them to use would help during this time. Examples are electronic scribble pads that come with a pen, touch and feel books that have multiple sensory activities and an edutainment gadget that comes with kids’ safe earphones that they can listen to while you can enjoy the music on the radio. The key point here is to make them understand that they will not be allowed to ride without being seated in the car seat.

Older kids love taking in views so make sure that your seat is adjusted to window level. Please make sure to let the kids out when you stop for a break and give them some time to run around before they are strapped back again. Travelling during naptimes are a great idea to ensure the kid remains quieter and naps during the journey. Invest in a good neck support for the kid so their head doesn’t wobble over while they are sleeping and keep checking on them to make sure they are sleeping right.

Tackling grumpy airport behaviour and plane journeys

There is nothing that spells havoc more than seeing a little kid running across the airport with his parents chasing behind him. I have often seen this while waiting near the boarding areas or at airport shopping areas where the kid scoots faster than a cheetah and refuses to remain at one place. For starters, this is normal behaviour and nothing that will make passengers sit up and notice. Remember when you were a kid and wanted to run amok while your parents chased behind you? What needs be disciplined however is not responding when the parents call out to them and totally ignoring the plea to sit down. What starts as a plea then escalates into threats and yelling from the parent, ultimately resulting in a sea of tears and a very grumpy kid that is forced to sit in one place.

This is not a very pleasant experience, both for the parent and the other passengers. While this may not be possible while you are rushing to the gate to board the flight, speak to the child and ask them to be responsible for checking themselves in at the boarding gate. Assign some responsibility immediately when you foresee a tantrum coming up. Hand them the boarding pass and ask them to keep checking on the screen to let you know when it is time to board.

Also, playing games like ‘I spy’ with younger kids helps take the boredom away. I usually walk around with the child in the stroller or a trunki (a ride on suitcase for kids) when we have some time left to board. Also, it is great if the airport has a kids play area because this will keep them engaged for hours. I personally use play areas when I travel as a solo parent and sit outside the entrance while she runs around endlessly within the playzone. If your kid is impatient and wants to roll on the floor, pushes the trolley, looks around and doesn’t want to sit, entertain this behaviour for a while. Knowing that certain kinds of actions are unacceptable are better than totally imposing a blanket ban on unrestricted movement. If your kid throws a tantrum midway, remove them from the situation immediately and make them sit in a comfortable place while talking them through their tantrum. Yelling will only increase the rebellious behavior so try not to lose calm when your kids have lost theirs.

Using physical force to tackle travel tantrums

Whether travelling or not, raising a hand on your child and using physical force to scare them into listening to you is totally unacceptable. While it is extremely difficult to practice what you preach, this is one of the ground rules I established for myself after I gave her a light spank once and regretted it immediately. Under no circumstances is it alright to use physical force on your child. They will listen to you out of fear, but they will definitely not understand why you are asking them to be quiet.

The bad behavior in particular should be called out and not the child. Most importantly, do not compare your child to another one that is calmly sitting on the seat while they are being unruly. Comparisons make children upset, insecure and unsettled. Doing it at the pinnacle of a tantrum will only worsen their behaviour so try to keep your calm, however difficult it may be.

Handling behaviour issues at restaurants and public places

From my travel experience, I understand that kids usually throw tantrums while eating out when they are either feeling full, extremely tired or very bored. To help control this, it is wise to not feed the child too much before hitting the restaurant. This helps keep their attention on the food and not anywhere else. Place an order for the child immediately and then take your time to place yours or order drinks while they eat their meal. Do not expect them to sit through the courses if they are very young as they will quickly get restless. I usually carry a travel-sized kids’ backpack everywhere, and this contains the same carry on stuff from journeys like the scribble pad and flash cards that they can entertain themselves with until the food arrives.

It may be a good idea to skip the fancier places for dinner when dining with children so you don’t cause distress to the other guests when your kid is being impatient. We usually leave the fancier places for afternoon lunches when our daughter is active and awake. She takes a round of the place and then settles in place to eat while being occupied with her travel toys. Some kid-friendly restaurants have some activities for them to do while the parent can eat in peace. We usually cook in our BnB or get takeout for dinner while travelling as the child gets tired with all the travelling. If you are travelling in a group and there are other children around, there will be scope to leave them to play together for a while but ensure that you lay down some ground rules before leaving them on their own.

I have seen children create havoc in public parks and get into teary fights at new places while the parents just lose patience trying to control them. Jumping around and frolicking is natural to kids and they will do that no matter the place, but do keep a watch on the naughtier kids and let their parents know in case they are being pushy and bossy around the others. All parents love their children but it is wise to call out bad behaviour when you see it, even if it is from someone else’s child. You will probably get cold stares from them later, but they will understand what makes other parents uncomfortable so do not be shy in expressing a certain sentiment to another parent politely.

I hope I have been able to put across some effective pointers to help you manage travel tantrums in kids. While this is not certified medical advice, it is definitely certified advice from a travelling parent who has handled multiple trips and behavioural issues from first-hand experience. I hope you embrace the beauty of travel and let your kids enjoy it as well. Happy travelling, folks!

(The writer blogs at Backpacking Mama.)

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