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Holiday Travel Tips: A Guide for Parents

Holiday_Travel_Tips_With_KidsLast year AAA projected 43.4 Americans would be traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. They estimated about 90% of travelers, or 39 million, would be traveling by car 50 miles or more. If you are the parent of school age children and are going to be stuck in the car together for a great distance you are probably looking for tips and tools to keep behavior issues at a minimum so you can arrive at your destination with pleasant dispositions and ready to celebrate with family.

To manage problematic car behaviors, the best defense is a good offense. Lead with a simple 5 part plan that focuses on encouraging positive behaviors.


For your first step, brainstorm a list of target behaviors and choose just 5 most meaningful for your children’s particular needs or issues. They could be “use an indoor voice,” “hands to self,” “kind words,” “feet to self,” “read or watch movie quietly,” etc. 

Next divide your trip into small parts. Think about the length of your trip and how challenging it is for your child to sit still or quietly. If you are on a 60 mile trip you estimate will take you 1 hour and you think your kid can be quiet and keep hands to self for about 5 minutes then divide your trip into 12 pieces. Set a timer for every 5 minutes and catch your child being good.

Create an encouragement system based on the 70% rule. That is, all kids can comply 70 % of the time. Expecting perfection is going to set you and your child down a path of failure. If you have divided your trip into 12 parts then if your child complies 9 out of 12 times then they did a great job. Some parents may give tokens, stickers, kid bucks, or silly bands for each time increment. Then if your child earns 9 of the 12 points possible they can exchange for a larger reward or privilege once reaching the destination.

Sometimes there are behaviors that must be responded to with a consequence. Sit down with your spouse or partner and create a plan in advance and explain to your children. Such behaviors may be not following directions, hitting, biting, lying, taking items that do not belong to you. Devise a plan how timeouts will be handled on the road or away from home such as keeping the misbehaving child in the car for 5 minutes while everyone else goes inside to the fast food pit stop or at the destination once reached. You may even call ahead to your family and identify a good time out location and explain to them why you are doing this and that you appreciate their cooperation with your parenting techniques during your holiday stay. You may even decide which parent will stay with which child depending on whose family is being visited. Predicting as many problems in advance will make you, your partner, your family and your child the most comfortable and confident once problems do arise.

Because travel can be stressful it is important as parents to take care of yourselves. Modeling emotional regulation is one of the best lessons you can give to your children. When you take mini “time outs” for your self you are modeling how to de-stress and relax at home and away.