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7 Tips for Maintaining Gentle Discipline While Traveling

toddler wearing dressup clothesMaintaining a positive attitude and attachment between yourself and a young child can be challenging, but adding travel to the mix can spell disaster for even the most experienced and dedicated parents.

Dionna at Code Name: Mama recently wrote about her challenges with gentle discipline with her son on a recent trip away from home.  I really feel for her because traveling with kids is so hard, and I have certainly been in the situation Dionna describes.

Her post and my recent experience traveling inspired this list of 7 tips that can help make gentle discipline easier on traveling families.

1. Remember your child’s age and stage.  A 3 year old going through a phase of testing boundaries is going to be testing those boundaries while on holiday too.  An infant under a year old will not be able to sit happily in her rear-facing carseat for several hours at a stretch, unless she’s asleep.  Adjusting your expectations according to your child’s age and stage of development is far easier than expecting him to adjust his behaviour to your needs, especially for children under 4 or 5 years old.

2. Limit separations.  It can be very tempting to take advantage of the babysitting services of the friends and family that you are visiting, but unless your child is quite familiar with them, it’s best to limit separations between yourself and your child while you’re traveling.    Nobody likes to be left alone in an unfamiliar place with someone they don’t know well, least of all young children.

3. Offer an opportunity for physical and social play every day.  Tour the playgrounds of every town you drive through.  See how foreign playgrounds are different from the ones you’re used to.  Let kids be kids.  In our case, 30 minutes spent running and jumping and making friends on the playground translated to happy kids riding in the car.  Totally worth it.

4. Don’t allow anyone else to discipline your kids.  Well-meaning relatives often jump in with discipline, but suddenly beginning to count down with a kid who’s never heard of 1-2-3 Magic is going to be fruitless at best, and possibly very frightening if they are punished by an unfamiliar adult.  If you see some discipline or punishment happening that you’re not comfortable with, “I’ll take it from here” is a good phrase to use. Then find a private place to talk with your child.

5. Discipline in private.  As much as you can, remove yourself and your child to another room when you see problem behaviour arise.  This offers more of a chance to reconnect in private, lessens the urge to punish or discipline so your family can see that you’re “doing something” about the problem behaviour, and allows your child the opportunity to save face instead of being publicly berated.

6. Have Special Time with your child every day.  A phrase from the Hand in Hand Parenting organization, Special Time is dedicated one-on-one time between a parent/caregiver and a single child, in which the child chooses and directs the activity.  It doesn’t have to be a long time, even 10 minutes can work, but it is important that you are not doing anything else except connecting with your child.  Maintaining your connection with your child can be more difficult when away from home, but working to maintain it is easier than reconnecting after an emotional disconnect when you’re away.

7. Tag team.  If possible, travel together as a team of parents instead of traveling solo with your child.  It’s not always possible, but having your co-parent there to lend a hand makes gentle discipline far easier.

These tips are offered as helpful suggestions, but please remember that even with the best of intentions and positive discipline techniques, being away from home is stressful for many parents and kids. You may still find yourselves struggling with difficult behaviour and a lack of connection.  It’s normal!  Do what you can to make the experience a positive one and forgive yourself and your child for any clashes.  Find something playful to do together and you’ll find yourselves back on track soon enough.