Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Tips for Handling Grumpy Junior Travelers

I need to make a confession. Reading over my trip reports with my kids, you may have formed the impression that they are enthusiastic, willing participants on all our travels. Perhaps you picture them happily donning their backpacks and eager to explore. You are mistaken. When I was visiting Austin a few months ago, one of my friends commented about how much her kids complained when they traveled, even on an overnight getaway. She was envious of all the trips I was taking with my kids. And then I explained that my kids' attitudes were pretty much just like her children's.

The key is that I've built up a very high tolerance to whining, pouty faces, and even calmly conveyed protests. I alternate between chirpily restating how much fun we're going to have, grouchily muttering, "Because I said so," and silently ignoring the cloud of grumpiness hovering around us.

So, why do we keep going? Because ultimately, the good outweighs the bad. Like much of parenting, just when I'm ready to throw in the towel (e.g. potty training, separation anxiety at school drop off, learning to sleep alone, etc.), something happens that gives me encouragement. A few happy moments of my kids' appreciation are all I need to keep me going. Plus, I am certain that at some point, probably a few decades from now, they'll look back fondly at all the journeys we take.

Here are some tips, some of which may only apply to my family:

1. Quote Lilo & Stitch
As Lilo says, " 'Ohana' means family. Family means no one gets left behind." I bring this up whenever the kids ask, "Why do we have to come along?" Hubby and I want to travel. We're taking the family with us. No one gets left behind.

2. Let them have input on trip planning
For our trip to Japan, I asked all the kids what they really wanted to do while we were there. Letting them have some control has cut down on resistance. I made sure I incorporated all the reasonable requests. Staking out the Nintendo office building which is closed to the public is not a reasonable request.

Can you guess if an adult or child put Pokemon Center on the itinerary?

3. Give kids their turn at picking restaurants
I will readily admit that we eat at McDonald's while traveling. I claim that we go too much. My kids claim that we go too little (3 times a day being just right in their eyes). So, I guess we're at some sort of happy medium. We'll also do the "acceptable choices" routine. I'll appoint one child to pick the restaurant but limit his choices to, for example, three restaurants that serve either teppanyaki, sushi, or ramen. Note that McDonald's is not a choice.

Plastic food displays outside Japanese restaurants helped the kids decide where to eat.

4. Figure out why they're reluctant
My kids don't get out of doing the day's activity just because of a bad attitude. But if someone is scared, I've learned not to push it. Who knew that The Many Adventures of Winnie the Pooh at Disneyland would traumatize my then 4-year-old so much that we weren't able to go on most rides for the rest of the day? I honestly thought that if I just got her on it, she would be so enchanted by the storybook images that she'd forget her fears. Wrong! On the other hand, we assumed my son refused to go back into the Magic Kingdom's Monsters, Inc. Laugh Floor show because he thought it was too scary. It turned out that he just thought the Roz character spoke to the audience rudely. We went back in.

5. Bribe them
Put the kiddie fun activity after the boring adult one. "If you behave while we are at this Buddhist temple, then we can go to the children's science museum." Also, offering an ice cream break will do wonders to rejuvenate tired children — just remember to tour quickly before the sugar crash hits.

6. Accept that everyone may not be happy
Of course, I would be overjoyed if everyone were happy! With two adults and three kids, all five of whom have very different personalities and interests, the chances of everyone being happy are slim. I try to split the difference so that everyone at least has a few chances to be happy. If one adult and 2 of the 3 kids are satisfied, I consider it a huge success.

How many children are happy in this picture?

7. Be willing to split up
Sometimes the best way to increase the odds of numerous happy travelers is to split up. There's a five year age difference between my oldest and youngest kids, and they are definitely at different developmental points, both physically and psychologically. In Maine a few summers ago, the two older kids went with their dad on Diver Ed's Dive-In Theater Boat Cruise, an amazingly way cool excursion to get an up close look at marine life both above and under the water. My girl was leery of boats, so we stayed on shore to visit the aquatic touch tanks and play with DNA replication LEGOs at Mount Desert Island Biological Lab.

Diver Ed uses an underwater camera to give kids a peep at life beneath the waves.

8. Know when to stop
Sometimes, I will have the most amazing, action packed day of sightseeing planned, but tired feet and hungry stomachs get in the way. I'm slowly, v-e-r-y slowly, learning to be flexible and figuring out when to call it quits and head back to the hotel. It's the same planning that goes into a day of running errands with a toddler and baby. As much as is logistically possible, load the most important stuff at the beginning so that you minimize your losses if you have to stop before the end of the list.

9. Find some Me Time
For some of my friends, this means a spa treatment or a quiet date night while the children are at the resort's Kids Club. In my case, Me Time usually involves barricading myself in the hotel bathroom and reading a book while perched on the counter after the children and my early bird hubby have fallen asleep.

Also be on the lookout for any Me Time opportunities that come your way.  Flying from Hong Kong to Tokyo, my hubby — but only my hubby — was bumped up to business class. He was all ready to decline when I piped up, "I'll take it. You can sit with the kids." See how nice I am to let the kids have quality time with their even keeled dad without buggy, ole mom hanging around? I was in a better mood, so I was more able to deflect my kids' grumpiness. Hats off to hubby for being totally fine with this arrangement.

I enjoyed a selection of goodies from the Business Class Fruit and Cheese cart.
Hubby snacked on peanuts while caring for 3 kids in Steerage Coach.

And if you find that magic moment when everyone is happy and content, cherish it!
(Then take a picture so you have proof.)

This post is part of Travel Tips Tuesday at Suitcases and Sippy Cups.


  1. Great tips! You are more than welcome to take Ellie with you on the next adventure :)

    1. I'm at the point where I don't think I'd notice a 4th kid until it was time to cram into a taxi. But I don't think I can promise to not finish off the donut holes myself before handing them to Ellie.

  2. Hi Michele, I wrote a similar post after I realized my trip report with a 2 yr old and a 6 week old sounded like pure bliss. My basic message was the same, the good outweighs the bad, and we only keep the pictures where kids are smiling!

    1. You are a role model for not letting a newborn and toddler slow down your international travels. That baby has covered more distance than most adults. All of you mommy expats have truly been an inspiration for us to take our kids to see the world.

  3. Very wise words, Michelle. We have done some significant traveling with our boys and have found everything you've said to be true.

    I had to laugh at the comment about the Nintendo offices in Tokyo. I've had to spend an hour+ in the Nintendo world in New York City twice now and my middle child is still insistent that he will get to Tokyo and see the Nintendo building. I'm not sure what he thinks he's going to do when he gets there though. I hate to think what he'll do when he hears that there is a Pokèmon Center. LOL! I might have to trade him that for some time with the cherry blossoms.

    1. I think my boys were secretly hoping to apply for jobs as Nintendo Game Testers. BTW, it's in Kyoto, not Tokyo.

  4. Replies
    1. The 1:2 bribe works, too. For every 1 minute the kids give me of peace, they get 2 minutes of kid activity.

  5. Love all your tips! We've practiced a few of these including the bribing =) I am so stealing your Lilo & Stitch quote. I don't think my kids can argue with that.

  6. I love this post. You're giving me great hope for the possibility of continuing to travel after we have kids.

  7. I love that Lilo and Stitch quote! This is a great list and I am so glad that you shared with everyone that every moment of a traveling family isn't sunshine and happiness. Of course, there are going to have grumpy moments (or days). Thanks for showing us all ways to work through the grumpiness.

    1. The World is a Book introduced me to your blog. I'll be sure to stop by Suitcases and Sippy Cups for all your great tips and trip reports.


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