This past Thanksgiving, AAA estimated that more than 50.9 million Americans would hit the roads for the fall holiday, the highest number of traveling individuals that the nation has seen since 2005.
Now that it is already mid-December, many area families are gearing up for a second round of holiday travel. Be it by train, plane or automobile, traveling can cause unwanted stress that threatens to overshadow what should be a joyful time of year.
To help families plan ahead, stay safe and enjoy the holidays, pediatric experts at Children’s National Health System in Washington, D.C., offer these tips:
Let the kids help pack their own travel bags
Giving kids control over what toys and activities they bring along for entertainment can minimize travel meltdowns. However, for my own kids, I usually sprinkle in a few surprises and extra snacks in case they get very tired or fussy. Toys that keep their hands moving, such as mini LEGO® kits or friendship bracelets, are particularly helpful. I also always pack a small, sturdy ball so that if there is a chance to be outside, the kids can wiggle a little. –Lee Beers, MD, Pediatrician, Medical Director for Municipal and Regional Affairs, Child Health Advocacy Institute
Be a mindfulness role model
While the holidays are certainly exciting, they also can be a time of stress or sadness. Children’s minds are like sponges, so watching parents overcome stressful situations using healthy techniques can be very beneficial. For example, when stress hits, try to use coping skills like taking a brief timeout from the situation, breathing deeply, listening to music and taking time for self-care. It is also a great idea to talk to children – in a way that fits their emotional and developmental level – about how it is okay to feel sad or stressed about a situation, but that there are things that can help, from receiving hugs to talking about it or doing an activity that they love. –Eleanor Mackey, PhD, Child Psychologist
Encourage snacking during airplane takeoff and landing to relieve ear discomfort
If you’ve ever flown with a cold, fluid in your ears or an ear infection, you know that takeoff and landing can be particularly painful as it’s harder to get your ears to “pop.” Here’s what’s happening: rapid pressure changes result in unequal pressures between your middle ear and the air around you. To equalize the pressure, you have to open up the small tube that connects the nasal passages and the middle ear, called the Eustachian tube. Most adults do this by yawning or chewing gum, but it is hard for babies or toddlers to do this on command. Parents should pack a bottle or snacks (lollipops often work well) to help young children move their jaws and equalize the pressure between the middle ear and the air around them. If you suspect that your child has an ear infection, make sure you see your pediatrician before you travel so that he or she can prescribe antibiotics or a pain reliever, if necessary. –Rahul Shah, MD, MBA, Pediatric Otolaryngologist and Vice President, Chief Quality and Safety Officer
Know when it’s OK to let your children spoil their appetite
It’s easy to overindulge in the mountain of cookies or fatty finger foods at holiday parties, but parents can help lessen the temptation by encouraging kids to fill up on healthier options before leaving home. For example, make healthier snacks like light string cheese, celery or apples with nut butter and carrots or peppers with hummus readily available. If you’re baking for the event, add extra nutrients by replacing oil (1-to-1) with unsweetened applesauce, swapping white flour for whole wheat, or substituting 1 cup of flour for 1 cup of black bean puree in dishes like brownies. –Jessica McGee, MS, RD, CSP, LD, CNSC, Clinical Nutrition Manager
Give age-appropriate gifts and beware of battery-related injuries
In 2016, an estimated 240,000 children went to the emergency room for a toy-related injury. When buying gifts for your children or offering suggestions to relatives, remember to select gifts that are labeled as age appropriate and don’t present choking hazards. One of the biggest and most serious safety concerns involves button batteries. According to Safe Kids Worldwide, serious injuries or deaths related to these batteries have increased more than nine-fold in the past decade, and severe damage can occur in as little as two hours after ingestion. Adults should always store items with batteries such as light-up holiday décor, remote controls and hearing aids, out of the reach of young children. Parents should also check toys to make sure that all batteries and magnets are in secured, childproof compartments. –Ankoor Shah, MD, MPH, Pediatrician
Minimize bedtime meltdowns with routine
While it can be tempting to let the kids stay up extra late during holiday festivities, sticking as close to their typical schedules as possible will keep everyone happier and healthier. If you normally read a story together or give your child a snack before his or her bedtime, continue these routines while you are on the road. Children look for these cues to wind down. If you’re concerned that the guest bedroom or hotel you’ll be staying in might be a bit noisy, download a white noise app on your smartphone to help block out intrusions. Just remember to keep it running throughout the night, as children often need the same cue to fall back to sleep if they wake up briefly. –Daniel Lewin, PhD, Psychologist, Sleep Specialist, and Associate Director of Sleep Medicine
This blog post originally appeared in Northern Virginia Magazine online.