March 5, 2010

Use Travel to Connect, Not Ignore

WebMD has an article with some advice on travelling with kids.  Most of it is pretty standard advice: bring new toys and books for long car trips; if you're flying, have your child drink something during take-off and landing to equalize ear pressure; and stay relaxed and keep your expectations on par with you children's ages and abilities.

All good advice.  The only thing in the article I really object to is the idea of giving your kid Benadryl on a long flight to 'help them sleep.'  Let's call a spade a spade here, folks: that is drugging your child.  Not right.  I have to say, that's also pretty disturbing advice to be written by a medical doctor.

Anyway, my suggestion to families this year for spring break: leave the technology at home.

Ok, maybe not all the technology.  Most adults I know wouldn't let their cell get pried out of their cold, dead fingers, and it wouldn't be fair to demand that your children ditch their connection to friends if you don't plan to do the same.  Portable CD players with headphones or iPods can be great for a few minutes or hours of quiet time in the car (depending on the length of the trip).

So what technology do I object to?

TV screens and DVD players in cars.  Every time I pass a van where each passenger is watching their own show on their own little TV, I hurt just a little more inside.  What happened to talking?  What happened to deep discussions, to silly car games, to kids exercising their creative muscles in the backseat?

To everyone who does not have a screen in their car, please don't install them!  To everyone who already has them, I would encourage you not to bring a single DVD with you on your trip.  If you bring some 'just in case' movies, chances are you'll end up using them.  Remember, sometimes a great conversation is prefaced by a few minutes of awkward silence or even bickering.  But you'll never get to the conversation if you pop in a movie every time things get tense.

Video games can also end up turning everyone into zombies.  Instead, my husband and I often pack travel sized board games when we fly, and they're good for the back seat too.  Scrabble is a great one for a long delay sitting at the gate and waiting to board.  Backgammon, chess and a deck of playing cards are good options, too, or just check out the travel-sized section of games at the store and find your family's favorite.  And don't forget Mad Libs, Twenty Questions, I Spy or the License Plate game.  The beauty of all these games is that conversations and interactions can continue while you play.  Family members are included instead of excluded.

Your mentality is important too.  If you start to get tense or irritated, stop and take a deep breath.  Remind yourself of what you're getting away from: an annoying coworker, a never-ending cycle of laundry, or just the boring daily grind.  Let problems, disappointments and issues roll off your shoulders, and remind yourself that you're not on vacation to be upset at your family.  If you or your spouse get tense or angry, your kids will likely reflect that with bad behavior of their own.

The key is to try to really enjoy your time together as you travel.  Think of it as an adventure, even if things go wrong.  Most of all, remember: the most important thing about Spring Break or any other family vacation is the time you spend, side by side, experiencing life.

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