Toy Whisperer: Tools for learning

Traveling with a Baby (Toddler) at Holiday Time: 18 Best Distractions & Techniques

Photo by Carl Figuracion on Unsplash

All parents have been there. You have a distance to go, either in the car or on the airplane or a train.  And you are traveling with a baby or a squirmy toddler. 

How do you leverage things to avoid a complete disaster?

First and foremost, accept the fact that it won’t be an easy gig. Even the most accomplished and well-prepared adults shiver with dread in this type of situation. But there are some things you can do to manage the situation.

It is a well-established fact that toddlers are happiest when engaged, so while you are planning your trip, you need to make some contingency plans. Most likely, you want some easy to carry activities, won’t be messy, and are not noisy. Take a look at these suggestions to see what will work for you.

Busy Books: There are all sorts of busy books for many different levels of development. “What is a busy book?” you query.  It is a book that has an exciting toddler or baby level activities built-in. Many busy books are self-contained and do not have any parts that could wander off. Some of the activities may include tying shoelaces, fastening belts, or zipping up zippers.

These everyday items fascinate toddlers as they are just learning to master all of these closures. However, busy books can be on almost any topic. And some are even simple enough for an older baby to enjoy.

Technology: If your child loves stories, songs, and other activities using touchpads, you might consider loading some age-appropriate distraction. It is also helpful if you can convince your toddler to wear earphones, so the annoying, repetitive music is heard by your child and no other adult sitting in close range. This model comes with a 2-year warranty against breakage.

Finger Puppets: These amazing little items are easily stored in a pocket, ready for action. But they can lead to many minutes of story time or independent play. Sometimes you can find sets on a certain theme such as the nativity, sharks, or people. This 20 piece set will seem new each time you select 1 or 2 to play with.

Busy Boards: These are usually somewhat larger and heavier than busy books, but they can fascinate some mini engineers for a long time as they try to open doors, use keys to unlock locks, or slide a blot to see inside a cupboard. There are many different versions from which to select.

Coloring: Personally, this option never worked for me as I had a very active toddler who loved building things. But I see many young kids fascinated with crayons, coloring books, and even plain paper. Start with a few colors and then trade the colors to add more interest. Sometimes a special book, such as a Christmas tale, will keep your toddler mesmerized.

Puzzles: These work well as long as there are not too many pieces to lose. Often the puzzle pieces are single objects that can be used in creative play. A puzzle with different vehicles can give many minutes of joy as your LO decides to play with each piece as if it were a toy.

Reusable Sticker Books: Sticker books are always a huge success. They are easy to use and build delightful scenes. You can find a range of topics to tickle the fancy of your precious. Even my craft despising son could be amused with the right sticker book. There are some on holiday themes.

Fidgets or Sensory Toys:  These are items that have been invented to catch anyone’s attention. You may have to experiment with which one is right for your child. Do they like the lava lamp imitation, or are they more interested in a fidget with moving parts? Are they likely to chew on the toy? Some fidgets suit that purpose as well.

A Harness: Really? Absolutely!  Parents find it useful, especially if your toddler is a wanderer. Your wanderer can have some freedom of movement, but you are tethered to your explorer to keep them safe. Just ignore any stares from the disapproving adults. They either have not had a toddler out in this situation, or they have forgotten how difficult it can be to contain the wandering spirit with grace.

Cuddly Stuffed Toy:  And if your toddler becomes sleepy, it is always great to have a friend to settle down with. This bear is made for sleep. Not only is it cuddly, but it plays soothing sounds, lullaby and has a mini light show for your young child. You will want to use this some time before your trip so your toddler can associate it with sleeping.

Other Hints

Build Independent Play Time: Before you leave for your trip, have your toddler practice independent playtime. You can even set a timer and say, I’ll be back in 10 minutes when the bell rings. Gradually lengthen the independent playtime.

Strategic Scheduling:  If at all possible, schedule the boring travel time at your child’s naptime or throughout the night. Take advantage of the natural sleep rhythm so your child can pass the time quietly, and you might even be able to get some rest, too, if you are traveling on a train, bus, or airplane.

Experiment Ahead of Time: You could try out some of the special activities to see if they engage your child. Let them interact with the finger puppets and busy books to see what works best. And when you find an activity that your toddler finds engaging, put that item away for the traveling date. Keep the novelty of the toy fresh for the traveling episode.

Get Physical: About an hour before your departure, plan for a very physical time with your toddler. Walk up and down the train station. Take them to the park before you get into your car. Race around the area before getting on the bus. Carry some balloons with you. Blow one up and play catch in the area while waiting for your plane.

Bribery:  Always carry snacks and liquids with you. Often toddlers can be amused with enjoying a favorite flavor. During this stressful time, it is not essential to worry about nutrition. You can offer attractive alternatives that would not usually be available. Does this sound like bribery? Sure, it is. If it works, you can use it sparingly.

Be Watchful:  Recognize the signs of boredom or discomfort early. It is much easier to settle a young one if they are not in a full meltdown. So, if you see any squirming or hear any disgruntled sounds, act quickly to change the environment somehow.

Interact:  Often, toddlers prefer to interact with their loved ones. They are easily entertained with a game of Peek a Boo, or Can you Find something red?  Make a list of favorite games that require no equipment for those tense moments. If these games fail,  then try something as lame as “Hey, look at that _______!”  There will likely be something in your view to amuse your toddler.

Mix It Up: Be prepared to switch up the activities to reduce boredom as the hours roll on by. Put away the old and bring out the new on a regular basis.

Now RELAX.  

You are prepared to enjoy your holiday.

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