Helping Children While Traveling
Understanding the behaviors that arise
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Some parents may find that their children become more sensitive or hyper in new situations, or when routines change. This month, we will share our understanding of changes in children’s behavior in the context of family travel. While this understanding of behavior is not limited to traveling, we will use the emergence of new behaviors while traveling as an example of how to help a child understand that their behavior is often related to how they are feeling.
Anxiety is a general word for when something feels uncomfortable or unsafe. For young children, safety comes in many forms, including the safety they feel from their parents’ comfort and the predictability of their daily routine. Some children feel less safe when they are faced with unknown or unpredictable situations. Some of these children are able to cope easily without noticeable changes in their behavior, while others struggle to keep a handle on their behavior and their reactions to the changes.
Changes in Behavior Usually Indicate Changes in Feelings
Sometimes the reason for a change in behavior is clear: for example, when a child becomes upset because he doesn’t want to stop playing on the playground. Other times, changes in behavior are not so obvious. When more perplexing changes occur, it can be helpful to first consider whether something in the child’s life has recently changed, or is about to change. It is helpful to keep in mind that alterations in behavior do not always indicate that a child feels negatively about the upcoming trip; instead, he or she may be having difficulty coping with mixed feelings or the unknowns about the trip.
Helping Children Recognize Their Behavior and Feelings
In many cases, fears can be dispelled by understanding them and by having thoughtful conversations about those fears. Children benefit from parents who can help them recognize that changes in their behavior often have something to do with how they are feeling. Once parents reflect on the circumstances that might be causing the changes, they can begin to talk with their child about what they see. In doing so, parents not only help organize the behaviors and feelings for their child, but also open up the opportunity to think together about how the child feels in various situations. Parents can start a conversation about this by making comments such as, “I’ve noticed you’ve been having a harder time listening lately. I know our trip is coming up soon and that might be on your mind. You might be excited, but you might also have some questions about what it will be like. I can tell you more about that.”
When to Seek Help
In some cases, this type of support is not enough, and some of the behaviors described above persist in everyday life rather than being limited to a more obvious change, such as a trip. In such cases, feelings and worries interfere with a child’s ability to manage his or her behaviors on a regular basis. If you have unanswered questions about your child’s ability to cope with the ups and downs of life, a qualified mental health professional may be able to help you develop effective ways to help and support your child.
The Lucy Daniels Center is a nonprofit agency in Cary that promotes the emotional health and well-being of children and families. Visit lucydanielscenter.org to learn more.