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Holiday Travel Hacks

by Jessica Ragnio, MSW, LICSW, and Associate Clinical Director at Mightier

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Twinkly lights, decorations, cozy sweaters, soup and cookies! It’s the holidays, and the festive spirit can be contagious. Who doesn’t love the extra time off from school and indulging in holiday treats? Who doesn’t love a good long car ride to grandma’s house, checking strollers through security at the airport, and living out of a suitcase for a few days?

It’s the time of year for friends, family, extra sugar, living off schedule, and abandoning all sense of a sleep routine. We love the holidays… but you can bet that all that excitement and all those transitions take a toll on our kiddos’ little brains and bodies! Here are some tricks to help kids, as well as adults, stay emotionally regulated through holiday travel so they can enjoy the season to the fullest!

Sleep. Of course this is first on the list. Any parent who has tried to reason with an exhausted child in the midst of a meltdown knows the power of a good night’s sleep. We function better when we’re well rested, we can think more clearly, and our capacity to handle stressful or emotionally charged situations improves. That goes for kids, as well as for adults. It’s important, therefore, to build sleep into your family’s plans. Are you traveling at night? Is your child a car or plane napper? How much sugar and how many cousins will be keeping your child from falling asleep once you get where you’re going? There won’t be a perfect solution for ensuring everyone gets enough sleep, but make sure not to lose sight of it amidst all the hubbub. 

Talk about plans. Being in new places, seeing new people, socializing for longer lengths of time, and being away from the comfort and quiet of one’s own space can be unsettling. For kids who struggle with transitions, uncertainty, and unexpected changes on a regular basis, however, holiday travel can lead to anxiety and overwhelm. Help your child emotionally and mentally prepare by talking through plans each day. Give them the space to ask questions and voice their worries or discomforts, and brainstorm strategies to help them feel more comfortable. They might not always have a choice in plans, but validating their feelings and empowering them with tools and strategies to feel more in control of their situation can go a long way.

Make a “pause” plan. Does your child have moments when they absolutely need to take a break? Social and sensory overload, as is typical when traveling through an airport or visiting with friends and family, can send kids’ nervous systems into overdrive. It’s important to give kids a chance to pause, cool down, and reset at regular intervals. Work with your child to make a “pause” plan that will work with your travel plans. Examples of this are walking up and down a hallway, coloring, sorting cards, counting windows, taking a moment for a tight hug, and taking deep breaths. Intentionally pausing and engaging in grounding techniques can help kids feel calmer, more emotionally regulated, and better able to handle external stressors. Schedule these breaks in ahead of time so they help prevent overwhelm, rather than react to it.

Carry a calming kit. It doesn’t hurt to have a bag or “toolkit” full of calming strategies during holiday travel. Depending on whether your child tends to get anxious, overwhelmed, frustrated, or has a lot of energy, this calming kit could look a bunch of different ways. Sensory strategies are great for helping kids feel grounded. Music, playdough, chewing gum, and scented items encourage kids to focus on their senses, which in turn helps them feel more connected with their body and less overwhelmed by the outside world. Similarly, fidget toys help kids focus their attention and energy in a very intentional way. Calming strategies and tricks like deep breathing, mindful coloring, and progressive muscle relaxation are also powerful tools for helping kids feel calm. Check out these coping skills cards with your child ahead of travel to add even more variety to their calming kit.

Already a Mightier family? Bring Mightier with you as you travel! Mightier’s games not only help kids develop long lasting emotional regulation abilities, they can help kids take that break and feel calmer in the moment. Long drives and plane rides are also a great time to get in some extra Mightier practice. Learn more about how Mightier helps kids build emotional strength here.

Happy Holidays!

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