Dear Dr. Debbie,
We’re planning an end of summer ocean beach trip with our two children and my child-free / childless sister and her husband. What are some strategies for making sure everyone has a good time? The children are 3 and 6 years old.
Planning for Success
Don’t miss last week’s column Nutrition standards for childcare — Good Parenting
Use P.I.E.S. – an acronym for Physical, Intellectual, Emotional and Social – to anticipate basic needs, recognizing the overall need for the adults to be sure the children’s needs are met.
Exercise, nutrition, rest, hygiene and safety are basic physical needs.
Break up a long car ride with a stop or two at a playground or park. If you’re traveling on Route 50, check out the Cambridge Visitor Center. There are picnic tables and playground equipment outside, and air conditioning and bathrooms inside (8:30 a.m. to 5 p.m. year-round). A little further, Salisbury has Ben’s Red Swings Community Playground and creek-side picnic tables adjacent to the Salisbury Zoo which has free admission. Zoo hours are 9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. Here everyone can stretch their legs while looking at exotic creatures, from pink flamingoes to bison.
Keep in mind that children’s needs for movement are far more urgent than adults’. So time your run-around stops to prevent sibling skirmishes in the car. A three-year-old, particularly, will annoy whoever may be in the seat in front of her by kicking the back of the seat. This is a typically unconscious action driven by bone growth at this age. High impact exercise helps the bone cells get calcium from the blood. Daily opportunities for running around, jumping, or kicking a soccer ball can greatly reduce kicking in the car.
Timing is also important for eating and sleeping. Plan nutritious snacks and meals into each day’s adventures. A well-balanced diet over the course of the trip will help to keep everyone in the best mood. Car food – plantain chips, snap peas, sesame sticks, water bottles – prevents being at the mercy of less healthy choices from fast food places. Try to keep to the children’s regular schedules, maybe with adults taking turns with their bedtime and breakfast routines while the rest of the adults are on a later schedule.
Depending on your planned activities, think ahead for hygiene and safety. Hand sanitizer works when there is no sink around. Bring children’s sunscreen and bug spray for outdoor activities. Do a tick check after each bath time. Assign an adult to each child during water activities.
Your 3-year-old may be ready for “I Spy” or “Twenty Questions” to fill in time in the car or elsewhere, as long as the adults help her out a little. Sing some songs, especially those that are silly or need participants to fill in, such as what Old MacDonald has on his farm. My grandson and I like to sing our own version: “Old Poseidon Had an Ocean, O-C-E-A-N” as we come up with different ocean creatures for each verse.
Think ahead for other entertainment in the car and elsewhere. Books travel well and don’t take up much space. A new puzzle or board game would be a nice surprise for the children when you arrive at your destination as well as a good way for adults to play with them. You can play tic tac toe in the sand with shells versus rocks. Simple things such as yogurt tubs make great sand toys, or you can pick up a set of plastic sifters, diggers, and rakes. Divide into teams for sand castles. The beach itself – wildlife, waves, rocks and shells, presents endless entertainment.
When you head indoors, a movie can bring together an audience of a wide age range, so long as it’s not too scary for the youngest (nor boring for the oldest). Use your experienced discretion or follow online recommendations for age appropriateness when making a choice that won’t cause nightmares nor insult adult viewers’ intelligence.
Emotional and Social Needs
Each child should bring along a favorite toy, blanket, stuffed animal, cup, and or clothes. These provide familiarity amongst people and places that do not. Provide tips for Auntie and Uncle before emotions get too strong or just take a child aside to calm him or her down privately. You know best who likes to be tickled and who doesn’t, and what your children’s preferences are for foods, etc. Show by example how you share your children’s excitement, guide them through frustrations, and sympathize with their disappointments. If you are patient with adults who are not used to children, you can help them learn to enjoy them more.
Most children are good at making friends with other children wherever they are, so look for opportunities for yours to do so in situations that will also allow for the adults to socialize with each other. This can happen at a beach, a pool, or a playground.
Just remember that a great family trip is made of moments of enjoying one another.
Deborah Wood is a child development specialist in Annapolis. She has a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Maryland at College Park and is founding director of the Chesapeake Children’s Museum. Long-time fans and new readers can find many of her “Understanding Children” columns archived on the Chesapeake Family Magazine website. You can find her online at drdebbiewood.com.
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What do you think? Leave your thoughts in the comments or submit a question to Dr. Debbie at Betsy[at]jecoannapolis.com.