It’s that time of year again, where so many of us are entertaining visitors or traveling to see family and friends, and with all of this comes a lot of stress. There are so many ways our kids can get triggered into meltdowns during the holidays, so I always find it’s best to strategize ahead of time. I know what my daughter’s triggers are, so I take the time beforehand to help prepare for them to keep her in a more balanced, regulated state of mind. Here are some possible triggers that either my daughter has or my friends have discussed with me about their children and what we’ve done to try to prevent possible meltdowns.
That’s a big one, and it's just all too common for kids to get upset. I’m sure you’ve seen those glaring eyes of other passengers when they see you boarding with a baby and/or multiple kids. First off, just don’t look at them. I have to admit, my daughter was always a pretty amazing traveler (and still is at age 10) but part of me is still waiting for the other shoe to drop. But here are some things I’ve done in the past or have heard about.
- Nighttime Travel - I always did this because my daughter would end up sleeping most of the flight and therefore less chance of getting upset about something. If you know your child won’t sleep, then definitely travel during the day!
- Take off and Landing - My pediatrician told me with a nursing or bottle feeding baby, don’t start nursing or bottle feeding until right when the plane starts taking off. You want your baby to be hungry and then eating right as the plane takes off, and do this again when the plane lands. With your baby suckling and swallowing, it helps prevent his/her ears from plugging up and causing pain and therefore meltdowns.
- Comfort Items - pacifiers, a baby sling, swaddle blankets – bring anything that comforts and regulates your baby. And if your baby has a meltdown, try not to get upset. It’s bound to happen. Just do the best you can and breath.
- Cool Idea - I read that one family passed out notes with some chewing gum as a gift to all the passengers saying that they were traveling with their baby for the first time and had no idea how it would go so they just wanted to let everyone know and give them each a gift. I thought that was a pretty cool idea!
- Lots of Snacks with Protein - For toddlers and bigger kids, have lots of snacks and a good variety. Even slip in some special ones you don’t usually let them eat. But don’t make it a bag full of sugary snacks. If you’re going to give them anything surgery, make sure they get protein with it as well. Too many sugar foods will first get them hyper and then they will crash. Voila – perfect recipe for a meltdown. Protein will keep their blood level balanced and prevent sugar crashes. Cheese sticks, snacks with peanut butter, turkey, ham or cheese sandwich, trail mix with nuts, milk all have protein. So protein is a must!
- Keep them Chewing - Keep gum on hand for kids to help keep their ears from popping. Toddler’s sippy cups are good for this too.
- The Every Hour Gift Game – go to Target or the dollar store and get some cheap little toys – then every hour give your little one a new little gift. My daughter loves this! And it kept her off the screen!
- Entertainment - I have succumbed to my ipad to keep my daughter entertained on a long plane ride (it’s best they be over 2 years old for lots of screen time) and I’ve finally just accepted that, however I bring coloring materials, card games, books and a few of her other favorite toys as well just to make sure she takes screen time breaks.
- Extra Clothes - I always keep a pair of extra clothes in my carryon for her (even now at 10) and pjs if we are flying late. We take her blanket and pillow as well and she loves to snuggle up. I also keep a few of our toiletries and necessities in my carryon, as well as an extra set of clothing for me. If you’ve ever experienced having your luggage lost, well, it’s not fun. Have some emergency supplies for you both in you carryon!
CHANGE OF ROUTINE
This is a big one for us. My daughter is very sensitive to any routine change and after a few days of having zero routine, she becomes very susceptible to a melt down. So here’s what I do:
- A Calendar – I bring a calendar and we write in it all the things we are going to do. That way she sees the plan and knows what’s happening, even if it’s different from our normal routine. And if we have free time that’s not planned, I put that in there too. It’s amazing how much this helps her stay regulated.
- Familiar Food – although she likes a wide variety of foods, she doesn’t like to be eating lots of foods that she’s not used to for very long. So I always make sure to find out whether there will be a place for me to shop and get some foods she likes to regularly eat. If not, I bring them. I make sure I can make some simple sandwiches I know she likes, some fruit and veggies, and some snacks she likes. With several familiar foods throughout the day, she’s fine eating things she’s not used to. Therefore she doesn’t start going hungry, she feels a sense of familiarity eating foods she’s used to, and therefore she’s more apt to stay regulated and not meltdown.
- Getting Enough Sleep – you may be going to a new time zone, or you may have people coming to stay with you, both which can disrupt sleep. When people come stay with us, I still try to get my daughter to sleep at her regular time. Or, if I know we will have a few late nights, we pace it to make sure she’s getting enough sleep most of the time. She and I will figure out maybe two nights that will be late and then two regular night sleeps after that. Sleep deprivation is a major trigger, so I really try to keep her as well rested as possible.
- Time Zone Changes - Different time zones are tricky. I always think it’s best to keep my daughter on her normal time zone when we travel, but sometimes she just starts naturally changing over if we are there long enough. In that case, three days before we are leaving, I’ll have her start to go to bed earlier or later (depending on the time zone change) so she can prepare for going home.
SO MUCH EXCITEMENT
So much fun and excitement can definitely be a trigger for a meltdown. It’s happened to my daughter before. Try to be empathetic. If your schedule is going to be jam packed with activities that could get your little one over tired or over excited it's time to strategize.
- Take little breaks – My daughter sometimes needs to be taken away from all the excitement to just chill and let her nervous system calm down. I think it can be helpful for any child.
- Plan Wisely – try not to plan things back to back if possible. Kids are slow as we know, they like to take their time, and if they feel you are stressed trying to get everywhere on time, they will get stressed too. Also, make sure there’s time just to sit and freeplay. Their freeplay is actually one of the ways they process their emotions and their experiences, so make sure they get enough of it every day because this is actually helping them to self regulate.
KNOW THE WARNING SIGNS
It's good to be able to recognize warning signals of an impending meltdown. If you can catch it before it happens, you can take some action like giving them a break, having a healthy snack, hold them to feel safe, check in with them, cut the activity short, give them a blanket or toy that comforts them, these are just a few suggestions. Some of our warning signals have been:
- Rubbing Eyes
- Turning her head away from noise or put hands on her ears
- Starting to seem easily agitated
- Haven't eaten for a while
- Got a poor nights sleep
- Starting to play a little rougher
- Getting whiny
- Hanging on me more
If you have specific issues you are worried about, it’s always best to speak with your pediatrician or nurse to get support. In my next article I’m going to start sharing some ways I’ve been learning to deal with meltdowns. I’m looking at my daughter’s meltdowns in a new way, and using some new strategies. So stay tuned!