Traveling with a toddler isn’t easy, no matter how much you might prepare or not. There has been frustrations, meltdowns, denial, refusals (my personal fav), whining….. all of these things from a seemingly easy-going child. How I’ve handled it has largely depended on how I was feeling, rather than how HJ was acting…. the difference between our family trip to London and Etretat were remarkably different because the second time around, I prepared HJ, thus preparing myself.
The best way (in my opinion) to prepare a child for a trip or any major life experience when they are little (between the ages of 2 and 8) is utilizing a social story. Social stories are a tool I used when working with youths diagnosed with Autism and or Mental Retardation. Think of a social story as literally a story about a social event that you want to prepare a child for. Social stories can be written on the fly with handy pen and paper, or if the story is chronically a major event, done on a Word document with pictures.
Why the age limit? Under 2 may be too young to fully grasp what you are saying, and probably around 7 or 8? They won’t buy what you are selling…. or would they?
My MIL (mother-in-law) had the genius idea of putting this therapeutic tool into motion for HJ after Skyping and reliving our traumatic London trip. I wrote a social story for our trip to Etretat, and have written one for our trip to Iceland & America.
You’ll note that I’ve chosen to stress specific things like giving our hotel in Iceland a nickname that’s easy for HJ to remember, outlining appropriate behaviors on the plane…. etc… etc. You are the author so you have the luxury of choosing the most important things to feature in your social story.
You should read this story to your child as frequently as possible one to two weeks before your travel date, or if it’s for a quick trip to the grocery store, immediately before you walk in.
To help you get an idea about what it might look like, here’s HJ’s social story, with the color photographs excluded (for length reduction):
HJ went on a vacation in June to the Beach House with his Momma and Papa.
Vacations are trips that families take together to new places. They stay in places that are different from their homes. They stay on vacation and then go home when they are done.
HJ and his family are getting ready to go on a really BIG adventure. HJ will pack his special suitcase with Cute Pup, Cute Bean, and some small toys.
HJ, Momma, and Papa will pack their suitcases and go to the airport where there are many airplanes. They will get tickets and get onto the plane.
While on the plane, HJ, Momma, and Papa will watch movies, eat snacks, and use a quiet, inside voice.
The plane will take HJ and his family to a place called Iceland. When they get to Iceland, HJ and his family will stay at an apartment called the Ice House. The Ice House has all kinds of cool things, like a bedroom and living room. When staying at the Ice House, HJ will have a special little bed to sleep in! HJ will go on the potty in Iceland and at the Ice House.
HJ, Momma, and Papa will see all kinds of new things in Iceland, like the Blue Lagoon, a place where they can swim in pretty water.
In Iceland there are cute birds called Puffins. HJ and his family might get to see some!
HJ and his family will stay in Iceland for 5 days. When they are all done with their family vacation, they will pack up their stuff and take another airplane. This airplane will fly them to America, where Gram and Paw, and Mimi and Grandpapa live.
In America, HJ will get to see all of his family. He’ll stay at Gram and Paw’s house and get to visit with Baby D, his little cousin. He will play with toys at Gram’s house and go to the park.
HJ will stay at Mimi and Grandpapa’s house too, where Cooper and Uncle Josh live. HJ will go to the beach, play in the park, and have all kinds of fun adventures.
When the America vacation is all done, HJ, Momma, and Papa will take a plane back to Paris where they’ll go to their home.
The pictures I used were of local Icelandic scenery, the Blue Lagoon, shots of the hotel we’re staying at, pictures of HJ in the airplane, family photos, etc.
I hope this helps some parents with toddlers prepare for big trips! If you use it, please share in the comment section!