Travelling with kids isn’t always easy
Any parent knows, travelling with kids isn’t always easy. Even the most confident child can feel stressed by new situations and places, and toddler tantrums can be commonplace in resorts and restaurants around the world. It’s not a pleasant experience for anyone. If your child is particularly sensitive to change, however, those problems can be magnified. What should be a lovely experience, family time on holiday together, can be marred by melt-downs and leave you wondering if it was all worth it.
Our recent feature on a family holiday to Fuerteventura, by Cathy Dobbs, charts her journey from chaos to calm – learning how to travel with her autistic son’s needs at the forefront of every planning decision.
There are some great take-aways from Cathy’s feature that could help others facing similar challenges to make their holiday memorable for all the right reasons.
Here’s our quick tips list on easing the way for a more relaxing break with anxious or autistic children. If you have any to add, please let us know.
1. At the airport
It’s amazing what a sunny little lanyard around your child’s neck can do. You’ll be whisked through reception, jump queues, skip the bright lights of duty free and get boarded first. Using your airport’s Disabled Person Needing Assistance (DPNA) service means you’ll have all the assistance you need to make the process of flying, fly.
Check with your operator if they can add this service when you book your flights. It should be free to any passenger with a disability.
Birmingham Airport’s DPNA service includes downloadable guides for those with autism and their carers, which detail everything you can do to reduce stress at the airport.
Anxiety being cut to practically zero means you can arrive at your hotel feeling more relaxed already – and excited to explore your holiday haven.
2. Choosing a hotel
Children don’t like waiting for things. Children with special needs can find waiting insufferable – and this can lead to tears and tantrums. Try and eliminate the waiting game, by finding a hotel that’s close to things your child likes. Whether that’s the beach, a quiet park, or a pool, getting them there quickly means they can get on with having fun.
It’s also important that it’s spacious, with wide paths and not-too-intimidating buildings. Go for a low-rise complex with open-plan interior and exterior spaces. This means you won’t feel cramped or jostled, which can be scary when you’re smaller than everyone there. It also allows you to walk side-by-side easily, so you can hold your child’s hand. And when they do run off to play, open plan layouts allow you to keep a close eye, even from a distance.
3. Pool choice
Try to find a resort with a choice of pools. However wonderful a water adventure area for kids may look, with colourful waterslides and water-spray features, it can be a little overwhelming for children who are only used to their local leisure centre. And you know it’s bound to be a popular, noisy area with lots of children enjoying themselves. Your child may want to explore, but it’s good to have options. They may need to watch others enjoying it first, before dipping their toe in unchartered waters. Knowing there’s also a small pool, away from the crowds, means you can still enjoy a swim without facing the unknown.
4. Buffet restaurants
Children can be pretty picky eaters and finding food they’re happy to try on holiday can be tough. Add to that the feeling your child has to be on their best behaviour, and it can become a nightmare scenario for parents with autistic children in particular – who can often emit a random scream or have a mini flip-out if the gravy’s lumpy.
At a buffet restaurant, there’s generally a vast range of high-quality food available, with plenty of healthy options too.
Both the choice, and the environment, can help a child who might struggle in a sit-down service restaurant. The fact that people are constantly moving around means no-one will notice a minor melt-down, or random scream. Best behaviour isn’t as important, so you can relax.
Essentially, if your child doesn’t like the dinner you pick, they can simply put the plate to one side and get something different. This is something you couldn’t do in your average restaurant.
And remember, this isn’t a time for instilling healthy food choices. Let them enjoy whatever they fancy, even if it’s freshly-flipped pancakes, oozing with Nutella.
Going all-inclusive is a great option. Familiarity is key. The predictability of going to the same restaurant for breakfast, lunch and dinner will take some of the anxiety away. You know the resort has everything you could need, so you don’t have to leave the complex if your child is settled and happy. You’re also not worrying about money and can pick up a drink and a snack whenever you like.
6. Time of year
Think about travelling out of season, maybe in the February or October half term break, rather than the height of summer. Firstly, because it will be quieter – always a plus for children who might find a busy resort too noisy and intimidating. It’s certainly a good idea for first-time holidays abroad. And secondly, heat can be an irritant to children who aren’t used to it. If we can feel hot and bothered in the heat, that feeling is intensified in autistic children.
Most family resorts offer excursions to local attractions. You will have to use your own judgement on how your child might cope with both the coach trip and the attraction itself. Don’t be afraid to ask questions before making a decision whether to book. How long is the journey to get there? Will there be toilet stops if it’s more than an hour? Is there a website you can check-out about the attraction before you go, to see if it’s something your child would like? And if you do book, are there options for an early return back to the resort if you find it’s not for you?
8. Relax and repeat
Our final tip for parents with anxious children would be, if you find somewhere that works – and allows you that all-important relaxation time, book it again! We love adventure, and love to experience new places, but for the time being your child may need to dictate your holiday destinations. Taking pleasure in seeing them happy is the most important thing – and that’s what will ultimately allow you to relax and enjoy yourselves. As your child grows, they’ll grow in confidence and be able to cope with more. For now, go to a familiar place that already has wonderful memories attached. It will make them all the more excited to get there.