I May Have Overshot A Little (Travelling Anywhere With Sensitive Children)
It’s not a secret we’ve had to deal with a rigid and sensitive traveller – one who suffers culture shock badly, finds it hard to sleep in strange places, and refuses foreign foods. It’s been hard work. We’ve questioned our judgement, and our motives, and our sanity.
So in the week of P’s sixth birthday, I’m taking a chance to reflect on how it’s all gone. Do I think we’ve make the right choices? Done the right things? Have our methods worked, and if so, where have they got us (apart from Singapore, Malaysia, Cambodia, Japan, India, Australia…)?
The truth, I believe, is we can only take partial credit for anything we’ve done – a lot of what’s happened is through the hands of mother nature. As all babies yearn to roll, chew, and walk, so we keep growing through our lives into independently-minded three-year-olds, angsty teens, risk-hungry twenty-somethings, boring, work-a-day thirty-five-year-olds, and – if we’re lucky – flourishing seniors, enjoying our “second childhood” (as my Grandmother used to put it, before she embarked on what she now calls her third).
But this post is about what we can take credit for; what we’ve learned about travelling and relocating with a sensitive youngster; and where we’re at now. I’m going to sum it all up for you, in points.
And I’ll try, very hard, not to cry. Because the thing is, you see, we may have overshot a little.
Techniques For Travelling With Sensitive Children
We have tricks in three categories: push them just enough, nurture problem-solving skills, and take time to reflect. The key revelation for me is that most of the work happens at home.
1. Push them just enough
We haven’t restricted ourselves to theme parks and all-inclusive resorts (not that we’re averse), and the more challenging the destination, the harder we’ve had to work to make sure our kids can handle it. We want to stretch them, but not so much they snap.
Planning with an eye to these four meltdown triggers has worked out more often than not, and when not, I’ve successfully lied to onlookers in mime whilst fantasising about getting sarcastic.
2. Nurture problem-solving skills
I believe every day we spend nurturing these skills makes it easier for us to travel, and that in the long term we’ll help build something greater than the sum of our efforts. From toys, to games, to unorthodox trips by bus around Singapore using a dice for navigation, we’ve tried a whole range of stuff and we’re always open to suggestions.
Two tools travel best: the first is running, jumping, and catching. Activities which require exercise and physical coordination have succeeded where breathing and meditation have failed. They get P’s mind ready for tool number two, which was given me by a psychologist friend and fellow-parent: ask, don’t tell. She puts her young kids “on the couch” so often I sometimes wonder if she ever says anything to them that isn’t punctuated with a question mark.
But I can testify to the value in asking P to dig deep into the basis of his concerns or create solutions to hypothetical problems that are unlikely to occur, rather than trying to dissuade or reassure him from the outside. At the very least, it fills in time on the plane.
3. Take time to reflect
Those endless, blurry photos are good for more than just boring people. They help me harness my inner Jedi to retrospectively create positive or useful memories out of pretty much anything that’s happened, no matter how traumatising, so we can face the next journey with confidence.
It’s worth reinforcing the good memories, of course, but my favourite trick is turning stories about ill-advised trips to inaccessible river onsens into tales of triumph against the snow and/or a powerful urge to kill each other, possibly by driving off a cliff.
In hindsight, anything can be worth it. I’m sure (with or without my editorial oversight of the comments) the rest of the family will agree.
Failing that, it’s empowering just to learn stuff for next time.
How far we’ve come, and may go
P’s six now, and no longer a clingy boy constantly crying to be hugged and carried. It’s been a while since he tried to escape from kindergarten to find me, and sometimes he even sleeps in his own bed.
Over the past year, he’s independently tackled his jellyfish concerns, and attempted to create a positive story out of an unfortunate event.
On the eve of his birthday, he sat in the bathtub, gently swooshing his hands through the water as he stared thoughtfully at nothing at all.
We were silent. Then: “Mum, I know it’s a long way to Mars. It takes two years to get there. And once you’re there, you can’t just get something sent up if you need it – you have do look after yourself on your own. Also, Skype takes sixteen minutes. Per message! But-” and here he switched his gaze to watch me from the corner of his eye – “I want to do it. I’ve decided I wanna take the risk.”
For a moment I just nodded, wondering if it’s what I was aiming for. P turned to face me square on. “I’m serious, Mum.”
And I said, “I believe you.”
Other stuff I’ve written about travel with sensitive children.
Read more tips for travelling with kids.
The post I May Have Overshot appeared first at Journeys of the Fabulist. and was shared as part of the Discover And Explore Link Party – Preparing for Family Trips.