Are you currently stuffing your car full of car seats, suitcases, baskets of snacks, a baby, a toddler and a breast pump?
Are you feeling anxious about your four month old’s first time on an airplane?
Are you already glaring at your partner while they insist on driving “that way,” or listening to the same Grateful Dead show for the last three hours? You might find yourself starting to lean more into the dead than feeling grateful.
But isn’t this a vacation? Isn’t Summer a time of sun, fun, rest and ease? We got you. We know it’s hard! Maybe this vacation thing looks a little different since your bundle of joy has arrived. Whether this is your first summer traveling with your little one, or you’re practically a Griswold…here are some useful communication tips and tools on how to make whatever trip you venture on go smoothly through communication and creativity.
1. Make family agreements.
Much of the world as we know it operates under guidelines and rules, yes? No hitting. No throwing food. Always stay with a parent. These rules can offer parents some ease, and some power. In fact, you may already have a set of guidelines you’d like to be in place for an upcoming trip. On the other hand, once you’re on the road, you may experience any number of unforeseen events that require you to be flexible with your family guidelines.
Making family agreements ahead of the trip is a way to create guidelines within your family and a way to share power with your children.
Prior to the trip, sit down and talk to your partner, children, and/or traveling companions. Lay out intentions and guidelines in advance that will meet everyone’s needs. Invite them to be involved in brainstorming and creating family agreements. Next, put them in writing so you have that to refer to at anytime during the trip. Send an email to hosting family letting them know these intentions and boundaries and also fill them in on any current family dynamics ahead of time. Let grandma know that your toddler is exploring saying no and hitting at the moment and it might flare up when they are outside their normal routine. Share your family’s intentions and guidelines if and when this behavior comes up. Welcome their support for your parenting in advance to these tricky parenting moments.
Setting up an agreement framework will allow you to venture on with everyone on the same page. This will create more ease within relationships, allow for more flexibility when plans change and ensure that everyone is able and willing to support each other!
2. Find the yes behind the no.
Have you ever found yourself faced with a “no” you were not ready to accept? At some point we have all reached these seemingly impenetrable walls of “no.” And it’s hard to imagine that on the other side of that wall there’s a big, fat yes just hidden from view. It’s true, though. Behind every no, there is a yes!
In addition to setting personal boundaries, find ways to show your child all the yes moments contained in the negative space. Children will often only be able to focus on what they cannot have or do and some redirection with language and understanding can open them up to everything they can have or do in that moment.
Sometimes, when your child can see the “yes” behind the “no,” their heart opens a little more, and the “no” is easier to accept.
Woven into your family agreements in advance, show your child as many of the hidden yes moments within vacation framework. While you are traveling, look for the no moments on your trip just like you look for feeding cues or sleep cues. If you anticipate a “No” moment coming up, go ahead and have three “Yes” options lined up to counterbalance the no.
3. See beyond the behavior.
Marshall Rosenberg, father of Nonviolent Communication, once said that all behavior is an attempt to meet unmet needs. Did your daughter just reach across her car seat and hit her brother? Maybe. Do you want this behavior to continue? Probably not. I imagine that you value safety and respect for all your children. Let’s pause for a moment though, and ponder why. Why did she lash out? Your daughter might be feeling angry, or crowded, or hurt. No child wants to lose control, just as you and I don’t want to lose control with our kids. Maybe she needs space and doesn’t yet know how to ask for it. Maybe her brother threw her favorite toy on the floor and the experience sent her brain into its reptilian state – fight or flight. Either way, if you can spot the needs behind the behavior, you can step into a place of partnership with your children, guiding them toward more healthy interactions.
Here are some helpful sentence structures to practice spotting the needs behind the behavior:
“Are you feeling ____ because you are needing ____?” Empathize as well as you can to fill in the blanks, and you’ll likely find yourself seeing the situation as the other person does.
“Are you angry because you are thinking ____?” Anger is triggered by thoughts, like “I think you’re not fair” or “I think I deserve another piece of candy.” Uncover the thought, and you are on your way to uncovering the underlying need.
“I am wondering if you are feeling ____” is another way to empathize, without telling them what they are feeling.
“I see ____” or “I am hearing ____” are ways to state an indisputable observation clearly so that the other person cannot argue back. “I see that you left your shoes outside”
“Would you be willing to ____?” is a clear way to make a request.
“Would you like it if I ____?” is a way to offer to help fulfill a need just identified, while leaving the other person still responsible for their own need.
A complete template could go: “I see ____. I am feeling ____ because I am needing ____. Would you be willing to ____?”
“I see ____. Are you feeling ____ because you are needing ____?” followed by “Would it meet your need if I ____?” or a statement of your own feeling and need followed by a request.
These sentence structures take practice, but a lot of parents find that practicing this type of communication with young children is a great place to start!
4. Connect. Connect. Connect.
Speaking of connection, If you only take one piece of information away from reading these tips, let this be it: Connection is at the heart of it all. Now, you may be thinking, “I’m about to spend eight hours in a car with my family. How could I not connect with them?” It is actually possible. Imagine all passengers with different screens in front of them and headphones covering all ears. This is not about condemning screens; It is merely pointing out that you can sit next to someone all day and never connect with them. When you’re connected to your kids, you’re more likely to understand what they’re feeling and needing. And guess what? When you’re connected to your kids, they’re more likely to work with you rather than against you. So, be sure to check in with them throughout the day. Bend down to their level, look into their young eyes, ask them how they’re feeling, and remain open to hearing whatever they might want to share.
To break up the monotony of travel, plan connection activities! Eye spy? The alphabet road game? Trivia games? Listen to an audio book together and digest it as a family? Or even take turns putting on a favorite song and having a sing along?
One way to prep for your trip is to create goodie bags. These goodie bags can be filled with activities such as coloring books, little toys or fun snacks. Every hour you’re in the car, train or plane you can announce that it is party time with a new prize or activity from the goodie bag! This can mark the time with a positive angle, your child looking forward to every new activity or treat.
We understand travel and a relaxing vacation can turn stressful but know that you always have the opportunity to take a deep breath and be patient with yourself and your family. Self care is of the utmost importance. Give yourself permission to thread little hits of nourishment throughout the day. While at a rest stop, walk a lap by yourself, take a mini power nap, put in your headphones for 10 minutes and listen to a podcast or some music. Find the support you need to cultivate courage and ask for support from your family! It is ok to take a break as you set out on your vacation. Our hope is that with these communication tools and inspirations you will find the support you need to stay calm and connected, which will allow you to enjoy your vacation!
Blog Contributors: Chama Woydak, Roxy Robbins, and Kate Davis