Ain’t Misbehaving – Late Toddler (2-3yo)

This post is part of a series about planning for good behaviour when travelling with young kids. It’s a kind of developmental approach. You can find the introduction here and I’ve also written a few thoughts on babes in arms and crawlers/early toddlers. These are my observations specific to late toddlers of around two to three years of age (the 3-5yo set will be discussed soon, after which I’m out of ideas).


You know how airlines start charging for kids once they turn two? You’re probably under the impression that’s because they’ve become too big for your lap or something. It’s not. It’s because, from two, it’s really worth taking kids on holiday. They have grown into proper little people who can happily leave a lot of their baby stuff at home. Their attention spans are longer, they have more self-control than ever before, and they can engage in distinctly more mature forms of interaction such as conversing, helping, following instructions, staring intently at TV screens for hours on end, and independently stuffing themselves full of junk food. They might even be toilet trained. Are there any downsides at all? Well, they do have one quirk…

Is everything lined up exactly?

Not a join out of place.

Most important category of trigger: Differences in expectations.

Picture your average two-to-three-year-old. In the experience of myself and all those I’ve exchanged exasperated conversations with, they really think they’re starting to get things figured out, and they tend to be ever so slightly obsessive-compulsive about it. Imagine their discomfort when you uproot them from their staid and manageable routines and show them an ever-changing whirlpool of life experiences. This is going to be way more stressful than accidentally serving their bed-time milk in the blue cup instead of the red cup. What can be done? With some success, we’ve tried to:

  • Avoid the problem by bringing their home routines along with us. This may include certain items – such as the all-important red cup – or it may just be a matter of remembering to do roughly the same things at roughly the same times in roughly the right order. Sorry, did I say roughly? It’s best to be as accurate as possible. The only caution I have is that it’s easy to lose things on the road. A nondescript cup of the right colour is one thing; the all-important, most-favourite thingamejig is quite another. My advice: consider bringing a medium-tier toy instead, and best of luck executing that decision, either way.
  • Reduce the problem by creating holiday-specific routines. This doesn’t mean doing exactly the same thing every day, or sticking to a highly-detailed plan (although if that’s what you think it will take, don’t let me stop you). We find we get away with anchoring our days by using routines constructed around transition points – so we will have the getting up and having breakfast routine, the leaving the accommodation routine, the sitting down to meals routine, the bedtime routine, the getting on and off transport routine, and whatever other routine we need to get smoothly through our trip. It helps to make a picture-chart of each routine, as a reminder to both adults and children (but especially the adults). Picture-charts can be stored digitally on the phone, or emailed to unsuspecting members of your family whose dinner tables you plan on sharing, so they can print them and stick them up on their walls and spend the lead-up to your visit rethinking the wisdom of accepting you as house guests.
  • Reduce the problem by using repetitive itineraries. Sometimes we repeat places, choosing a content-rich environment which deserves a second (third?) look, and going there more than once to explore it deeply. Or we might split a full-day sight over two or more half-days (entrance fees allowing) with something else in the afternoon. The other thing we might do is repeat similar activities in a similar order – spending each morning on a new walk, and each afternoon at a new swimming place, for example, or spending each morning at a different museum, and each afternoon reviewing the rules for correct behaviour inside museums.
  • Alleviate the problem by preparing our children for changes ahead of time. I’ve found pre-trip books, pictures and discussions have been lost on the younger age range (although from two or three it’s not necessarily lost completely). I’ve had better luck losing the chalk-and-talk approach, and instead getting them used to travel-style experiences at home so they have some practice at tackling new and unexpected situations. Over relatively short time periods – say a couple of hours – direct verbal communication seems to be of much greater benefit. Talking through the day over breakfast and lunch is definitely a part of our holiday routine.

When all this fails, we fall back on certain parenting routines, like having a stiff drink after the kids are in bed, and a full-strength coffee in the morning. You can look at the itineraries we’ve planned and pursued for our late toddlers under the late toddler category. Suggestions for little kids are coming.