You probably hear the same thing time and time again: kids need structure and routine. But you know this, right? You’re a parent … you have probably felt the chaos that ensues when you throw your schedule out the window. It doesn’t take a developmental psychologist to know that children thrive on consistency. In their world, consistency = predictability = comfort = safety. And when kids lack consistency (or in their interpretation, lack safety), you’ll surely notice them having a harder time. Maybe they get clingy (their anxiety increases) or their behaviour seem to worsen (they’re looking for boundaries). Maybe they just seem easily overwhelmed. And lets face it, this is hard on you!
When you are a traveling family, it is pretty much guaranteed that your routine will waver each time you set out on a new adventure. Well, okay, maybe some of you don’t miss a beat, but if your anything like me, things can get a little hairy.
But what I have learned after taking to the road (or sky or sea) with my husband and 2 toddlers is that it doesn’t have to be so chaotic and you can settle into routine with a little focused effort.
Here are 7 tips for maintaining your family routine and structure so that you kids (and you) can easily adjust to travel and have a more enjoyable time.
7 Tips for Establishing Routine and Stability While Travelling With Kids
- Honestly Assess Your Kids. And probably yourself too. What I mean by this is that you need to take a good hard look at each person in your family and what they need in order to feel comfortable. We are all different in what we can tolerate: some people go off the dial if they stay up 30 minutes past bedtime, whereas others seamlessly adjust to a 10hr time difference. You need to know going in how flexible and adaptable each person is and tailor your plan accordingly.
- Bring Familiar Objects. Of course you are going to bring that favourite stuffy or blanky, but think about what else might bring comfort to your kids. Things that are small, light weight, and familiar will go along way. For instance, we brought a couple of small favourite books, a special pillow case, night light, and a few toys (like Calico Critters) that are small and loved. Think of objects that will signal familiarity and comfort to your kids (without blowing your weight restriction!)
- Find a Favourite Hangout. And see if you can build these into your days. For our girls, they have fallen in love with fountains! Fountains, fountains everywhere! Sometimes we take a trip down to the familiar favourite fountain “to see if the water is on.” Whatever… it gets the kids excited. It simple. They know where they are going and feel confident leading the way. Maybe there is a familiar spot that your family might be able to visit regularly?
- Pay Attention To Food. This is huge, regardless of whether or not your are traveling. There is a reason the word hangry is a thing. Not only do you need to have familiar snacks on hand, we also need to remember to schedule meals throughout the day. No, I am not saying meal planning (I could never do this, kudos to those who have it down), but make sure you know when it’s lunchtime. I know that some people can get caught up in the excitement of travel and shift their eating routines dramatically. Some morph into 2 big meals a day or snacking here and there but this simply won’t do for kids. In our family, we have often made the mistake of thinking we’ll just go out for breakfast, but it just ends up being far too long until we are actually eating. Whatever you do, don’t miss a beat with food.
- Maintain Your Simple Routines. The specific details of the day will certainly vary, especially when you’re traveling but you might be able to maintain some sort of structure while also being spontaneous. Think of the routines that don’t necessarily take up a lot of time, but that are really meaningful to your kids. Maybe you commit to eating breakfast and dinner at the table together, as often as your can. Maybe you take 10 minutes after breakfast to do some stretching, reading, colouring, or whatever you like to do as a family to start the day the same way. Think about the things you already like to do as a family and try to stay consistent with those things. And remember, these don’t have to be time-intensive. A couple books or songs before bed can be a wonderful, yet simple, routine that your kids will look forward to.
- Build a visual schedule. Together. Once you know how your days typically flow, consider creating a visual schedule, like this one, with your kids. You can actually allow a lot of room for flexibility even when you have a routine. For example, maybe the morning routine is “go outside.” Well, that can mean a lot of different things! What’s nice about a visual schedule is that: 1) You can make it with your kids, and 2) Your kids can check the schedule any time they like. This is incredibly comforting! Kids love to know what is happening and this gives them a way to access the plan all by themselves! (But what kid want to do things by themselves?…Oh, all of them?)
- Talk about your day. One of my favourite routines with my oldest daughter is to talk about the day when I am tucking her in for bed…she even asks for it now! In less than 5 minutes, I go through the day and review what happened, where we went, what was great, and even what was challenging. And she just listens, clearly lost in thought. When your child hears your words they will begin to recognize routine and structure, and they’ll also have the chance to ask questions and process anything that isn’t making sense. And bonus: It’s also a sweet ritual that will develop great communication!
Parenting is hard, can we just accept that? And when we make the choice to travel with our little ones, we are often challenged even more. But I know that we wouldn’t make these choices if they weren’t worth it. We all glean the gifts of expanded knowledge, cultural appreciation, flexibility and acceptance, curiosity and thirst for more. We make these choices because we wholeheartedly believe in the benefits. Sure, we might doubt ourselves at times (or maybe like, most of the time), but hopefully there are little glimpses along the way that help you know this is a good thing.
A runner-friend once told me during a long training run to “make it easy on yourself“, “settle in” and “get comfortable.” I completely forgot about that until now. And as I reflect on our experiences as a traveling family, we need to do the same.
Settle in to routine. Get comfortable. Make it easy. And enjoy (I added that part!).
Is there anything else that you do to settle yourselves and your kids in? Leave a comment and let me know what’s missing here, I’d love to hear!
Author: Kate Butler
Kate Butler is a writer, a wanderer, a digital nomad. A mother of two, lover to one, and dedicated to living an inspired, colourful life. She co-authors Flipping Moons and has an online therapy practice, LiveLight Counselling.