I am often asked for my “top tip for traveling with young children,” which I think is a lot like asking, “Which is the most important key on a piano’s keyboard?”
In addition to all of the important bits to consider, like where to travel at which ages and stages, what to pack for camping trips or cruise vacations, how to childproof during travel, and the ever-pressing how to keep babies happy on airplanes and toddlers entertained during travel…there’s one piece of the puzzle I think goes too often overlooked: understanding a child’s unique temperament.
Really, when it comes to planning an enjoyable family trip of any kind—with children of any age, I’d have to say understanding your child’s most dominant temperament traits (not to mention your own!) and having a game plan for how to work with them as you travel is pretty much “the secret sauce.”
So starting tomorrow, I’ll be publishing my advice for traveling with children of every temperament, with advice for a different temperament type every 2 weeks. I hope you’ll find it helpful! In the meantime, here is an explanation of what “temperament” really is and why it matters when traveling with children excerpted from Travels with Baby: The Ultimate Guide for Planning Travel with Your Baby, Toddler, and Preschooler.
TRAVELS WITH YOUR UNIQUE CHILD: TEMPERAMENTS IN TRANSIT
As travel guru Rick Steves writes in his book Europe Through the Back Door, “Travel is intensified living—maximum thrills per minute and one of the last great sources of legal adventure.” Of course, parenting a small child is no snooze either. When you combine the two, the results could either lead to a nervous breakdown or the best time off you’ve ever spent in your life. For the best family vacations possible, use this section to help identify and prepare for the most likely challenges that may surface during trips with your unique child.
You may have already noticed that your child thinks, behaves, and reacts to certain situations differently from his playmates, and perhaps even from how you do. Whereas one child may adapt seamlessly to changes in sleeping or eating schedules, a different child may be deeply troubled by these differences. Consider the cautious child who quietly observes at length before attempting a new activity, and then her more active counterpart who learns by simply doing—bruises, bumps, and all. These differences are not simply the consequences of good or bad behavior, nor, as parents with multiple children discover, environment or upbringing. What make children different from the get-go are their inborn temperaments.
“Temperament,” as defined by The American Heritage Dictionary, is “The manner of thinking, behaving, or reacting characteristic of a specific person.” In the late 1950s, researchers Alexander Thomas and Stella Chess identified key temperament traits that were present in individuals from birth, and influenced the way they developed and the choices they made throughout their lives. Researchers have found that often a child’s dominant temperament traits can be identified as early as 4 months of age. In some children, just one temperament trait may dominate. In others, there may be multiple traits combining to create their unique worldview.
Recognizing your child’s dominant temperament traits—and just as importantly, how you or your partner’s may differ from your child—will give you a tremendous edge in planning your trips together as a family. As you read over the descriptions of the eight key temperament traits that follow, note where your child tends toward one extreme or the other and see the tips and suggestions that follow for traveling with children of these temperament types.
I’ll be back tomorrow with advice for one of the temperament types I am asked about most often: The high-energy child!
More travel inspiration on tap: Get the 411 on family travel destinations around the world from our sister site: Family Travel 411
Shelly Rivoli, author of the award-winning Travels with Baby guidebooks
What?! Your kids aren’t babies or toddlers anymore? Head over to Family Travel 411