Most families take one big trip each year. The thought of getting away is always exciting, but if you’re planning to travel with a child who has ADHD, it can be daunting, too.
Of course, this is not your son or daughter’s fault. Their ADHD diagnosis means they crave routine. Heading out on vacation — a prospect that sounds relaxing to you — can feel the opposite to your little one.
That doesn’t mean it can’t be done, though. You just have to keep their feelings in mind and plan ahead so they’re comfortable and calm on the go. Here are the best travel tips for children with ADHD.
1. Lay Out Your Expectations Early
Going to the airport or boarding a train for a long journey breaks your child out of their daily routine. Still, you can prepare them well in advance by making your behavioral expectations clear. For example, you’ll want to explain that the airplane or train counts as an indoor space, so they have to use their inside voices.
Some parents find this task becomes even easier with a rewards chart. If your child adheres to the rules while on the plane or in the hotel, they can earn prizes. This tool will motivate your son or daughter to behave as specified.
2. Plan Well and Together
Even though you’re on vacation, your child with ADHD will still need some sort of structure. Before you go, outline your schedule. That means figuring out when and where you’ll eat, which activities you’ll do on what days and when your little one will nap.
On that note, your child must get their usual amount of sleep each night, even if they’re on vacation. Their good behavior depends on whether or not they’re well-rested, so set them up for success with set bedtimes.
Finally, you can loop your child into the planning process so they take some ownership of what’s ahead. Older kids can research activity ideas on their own. Even little ones can contribute ideas — if they love animals, for example, they might be happy to plan a trip to the zoo with you. No matter what, knowing what’s ahead will help your child adjust to — and grow more excited about — the idea of a vacation.
3. Make the Traveling Part Easy on Everyone
The hardest part of traveling with kids is keeping them entertained on the journey. If you prepare in advance, you will have more luck in keeping your child calm and happy. Your best bet is to discuss the trip before it arrives. Ask them what activities they’d like to do on the plane or in the car. Lift normal restrictions on such toys as iPads and video-game consoles. After all, this is a vacation — and playing quietly and happily will make things easier for everyone.
You might also ask your child to pack a bag with the toys, books and games they want on the plane. Similarly, this will get them excited to get in the car or go to the airport, at which time they can open their backpack and play with what they’ve chosen.
You might have luck helping older kids improve their abstract thinking skills, too. While you travel, encourage your child to daydream out loud. What are they seeing? What shapes are in the clouds? What’s the story behind them? They will have fun imagining with you, but they’ll also hone an important skill — transforming a simple thought into a more abstract, complex idea.
4. Consider Renting a More Homey Vacation Accommodation
We see the value of staying in a fancy hotel, of course. However, a child who craves structure and familiarity might find the experience overwhelming.
That’s why parents of kids with ADHD often choose to rent a house or apartment when they travel. It might not be as exciting for you to stay in a normal home, but it makes it easier to give your child some of the structure to which they’ve grown accustomed. For example, in a rental property with a full kitchen, you can prepare family meals as you do at home so your son or daughter can maintain their regular diet.
A house with more space allows you to keep up with your everyday family activities, too. Do you need to spread out for playtime or have the kids in separate rooms for bedtime? A larger rental makes that possible, making the trip more enjoyable for everyone.
Always Highlight the Good
Don’t forget that everyone is doing their best — especially your child with ADHD. Be sure to highlight all the good behaviors they exhibit, and focus on all that’s going right. It’ll make your vacation all the more special and enjoyable, even if it’s not exactly the kind of getaway you had planned.
In the future, remember your winning vacations. Your child will have an easier time heading somewhere they already know and love. If this holiday’s a success, then consider returning — and relax in knowing it’ll be a little easier, and thus even more enjoyable, for everyone.