Traveling with Toddlers–Overstimulation

Something I’ve noticed more on this trip home, and more than in our previous travels is how overstimulated Elanor gets and how quickly.

Confession–we’ve never been a family that does “routines” in terms of the clock.  There was never the “be home for 2pm naps” or “bedtime is firmly X.”  We have routines of certain books and all of that at bedtime, but we’ve generally been a flexible family, which has translated well into travel.  Elanor rolls with the punches, time changes and all of that with relative ease.  Personally I think being over a complete 12 hour inversion of time in only 4 days is close to miraculous.  Arguably it took me longer to get over jet lag than it did Ella.

But as she’s getting older, this “easy travel” thing is getting harder.  I expect it to get even more challenging before it becomes easier again.

What I didn’t realize is that we have, inadvertently become more of a routine family over the past few months.  Elanor is used to going to school twice a week.  She’s used to gymnastics once a week.  She’s used to popping into a mall and after a small amount of shopping, getting to play in a fountain.

Travel up-ends all of that.  There’s been no school.  There’s been shopping trips of FAR more length than I would ever dare to do at home (time is short and I need to get X,Y and Z done…and I can only beg so much free childcare from my parents and my in-laws).  When we go shopping, Elanor is dazzled by the ENTIRE AISLE of Disney Princess Crap (TM) at Toys R Us, as opposed to the small section on one side of a half-aisle.  Or today..Barnes and Noble’s children’s section puts Kinokuniya and Borders to shame, and Elanor just got overwhelmed.

Overwhelmed toddlers tend to not know how to express themselves…except via tantrum.

Oh, the tantrums.

We have had more tantrums/Ella behaving badly (pulling things off shelves, running away, screaming NO) in the past few weeks than we have in the past few months.  At first I was bewildered…who was this demon child throwing a fit in a restaurant when she’s ALWAYS good (especially when bribed with iPhone games and video)?  Then I realized, in the same way that our last trip was home was overwhelming for me, and being in a grocery store is incredibly overwhelming for me, all of this (seeing her grandparents and our friends, all the extra shopping, the car, all the new experiences) were too much for her and she doesn’t have the vocabulary or ability to explain how she’s feeling to us.

We’re trying our best to compensate, such as taking turns this evening with her outside the restaurant, letting her jump in puddles to burn off energy and do something SHE thinks of as fun.  We’re letting some behaviors slide that we might not normally (not the serious ones, but the smaller ones…giving her a few extra chances).  We’re doing things like laying down with her at bedtime that we don’t normally do.  We’re trying our best.

I think when you travel with toddlers, if you can (and as expats visiting home, it may not be an option) you want to take things as slowly as possible and build in as much free time as you can.  Playgrounds, parks, anywhere that they can run the energy out should be built into your days.  Limit touristy or chore-like things to as few per day as possible and for as short a time as possible.  We do much better with these when we’re just traveling, as opposed to being home where we try to fit in as much as we can in a really short (in Ravi’s case, even shorter than my) time frame.  And if you can’t…store up some extra compassion and patience for your overstimulated child.

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