I meet many families traveling with small children on planes, trains and buses. For many of them, it is a nightmare to travel with their small children. Often, the child is jumping or climbing over the railing or screaming. The parents are embarrassed that their child is not sitting still, so they tell him to stop jumping or climbing, but the child doesn’t stop. They ask again with a raised voice. The child does not listen and continues to act out of control. The parents are getting more impatient by now, and slaps the child across the face, the child now cries in pain and shame. I have even seen parents threatening the child that they would throw him out of the train if he does not stop misbehaving. I have witnessed this kind of scenario several times, but it need not be a bad experience. Traveling with children will never be the same as when you are traveling alone. There will be some challenges, but it is possible to minimize the struggle with planning and a few creative ideas.
The Challenge: My Child Won’t Sit Still!
Children have a hard time sitting still. They are young! They still have the energy and curiosity to explore and be active, especially in new surroundings. As parents, our job is to keep them occupied. For this, we have to use a bit of creativity and fore-thought. I’ve traveled with my boys all over India on trains, busses, and planes. This was possible without driving me insane because I never left the house without planning ahead.
- Have plenty of play dough. Here is my recipe. Make it in different colors.
- Bring lots of scrap paper, crayons and coloring pencils.
- Bring favorite toys.
- Bring a few new toys.
- Pack a favorite food.
- Bring some favorite new books or comics.
- Bring games.
Usually the first half hour to hour the child will be occupied, because it’s exciting to be exploring a new environment. During this time, you don’t need to worry about giving them an occupation. When you do decide it’s time, remember not to give them all the toys at once. One at a time works better. Perhaps you could begin with the play dough. Once the child has had enough of the play dough, then give the other toys individually.
Even while traveling, it is good to maintain a regular eating and nap schedule, especially if it is a very long trip. If the train or bus has a long stop, take the children out (or even do it inside) and run them around. This will release some pent-up energy and allow them to sit still for awhile longer. One mom I know carries a jump rope so the children could play with that when they stopped for tea or mealtimes.
Tip 1: One word of caution about bringing food for them while traveling: DO NOT give children sugary snacks, which can make them hyperactive, and only add to the problem.
Tip 2: Keep a wash towel and antiseptic wipes handy to wipe their hands before giving them anything to eat to keep them healthy.