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Rebecca Chicot PhD
Child development expert with a Phd from Cambridge University. She has worked on several best-selling books and BBC documentaries. She is the proud mother of three children.
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Stage 6 – preschool

Travelling with your toddler

Getting your toddler from A to B can seem like an impossible task at times. Toddlers have a very different view to adults when it comes to travelling - while you are focused on the destination, and time spent travelling is a necessary evil, your toddler lives in the moment and to him, the journey is almost as exciting as the destination itself! Go prepared with lots of activities and bags of patience - and if you can, maybe even slow down and enjoy the journey.
In Short
Enjoying a slow walk to an event looking at flowers and so on allows your child precious learning and bonding time.

On longer journeys in the car, on a train or on an aeroplane, pack colouring pencils and paper, sticker books and story books. Games such as 'I spy' also work well (adapt to your child's language and comprehension level), or ask him to describe his favourite cupcake and play pretend cafes.  

Even the most exhausted, fractious toddler can be miraculously boosted on a journey by making it fun.

Adults are very future-focused and as such, we can accommodate delaying gratification and accept situations whereby we have to sit in the car for a long journey to get to our destination or walk in the rain to get to a party.

Your toddler couldn’t be more different. He really lives in the moment and can only live in the moment. He is not yet able to anticipate the future, so for him, a journey is an event in itself. The best way to help your toddler get from A to B with the minimum of fuss (and hopefully lots of fun) is to get down to his level, live in the moment and enjoy the journey (as they say).

This means that however you are travelling – by foot, by car or by plane – you need to be prepared with games and activities to play with him.

Enjoy the micro-cosmos on walks with your toddler

If you are planning to walk to an event with your toddler you need to build in lots of time ‘for the journey.’ Toddlers fundamentally understand that the journey is just as important as the destination and notice and absorb everything. This is because they are not thinking about the future – the playgroup or whatever it is that awaits is the furthest thing from their mind. They are smelling the flowers and spotting the butterflies.

Each of my three children, as toddlers, always noticed the moon in the sky during the day. Most adults rarely look up (or down, or sideways; they are too busy mentally ‘looking’ at the future). You will really lower your stress levels and arrive with a much happier and more enriched toddler if you slow down to their pace and ‘take the time to smell the roses’ or blow dandelion clocks or collect litter (a big favourite with my three!) You can even pack a bucket or a mini magnifying glass so the walk becomes a micro safari. This really is both a precious learning time and a precious bonding time so set off early so you don’t need to rush.

Invisible journeys

One of the best ways to get your toddler from A to B, especially if he is tired and dragging his feet, is to distract him so that he won’t even without realising he’s on the move. Remember, toddlers can only focus on one thing at a time, so distract his focus on the walk and start a fun game.

I still play this game with my youngest (who is now eight!). We play show-jumping over the shadows of bikes as their riders whizz past us on the common on our walk to school. She will literally be transformed from a droopy whinge-bag to a harrumphing, bounding, show-jumping pony. Before she knows it she’s crossed the common and is now in a good mood! There are lots of variants on this game, such as jumping over cracks in the pavement or puddles, but the ploy is the same. You are distracting your toddler from focusing on the walk and changing his focus so that it’s about a dynamic, energetic game.

Toddlers in waiting rooms

Make-believe games are a fantastic way to keep your toddler happy when you are both stuck sat waiting in a café or a doctor’s surgery. Ask your toddler what kind of cupcake he wants you to make in your cupcake shop. If you are sitting next to him you can describe the cupcake in all its amazing detail, from rainbow icing to fairy dust sprinkles, and you can even mime making it, icing it and taking payment from him. Then it’s his turn.

Toddlers on planes, trains, and automobiles

I feel really sorry for toddlers held fast in car seats on a long journey. Can you imagine having to wear a five-point harness for hours in a car? Again, their world in the car is very boring and unchanging so they need distracting. Games such as ‘I spy’ are perfect, though of course, your toddler won’t be able to do it with letters so you will have to be more descriptive: ‘I spy with my little eye, something that I like to drink in the car’ etc. If your toddler loves lorries get him to shout out ‘lorry’ every time you pass one on the motorway. If your toddler’s language isn’t up to traditional ‘I spy’ and saying ‘lorry’ you can ask him, for example, ‘Can you see the big green lorry? Point at the green lorry!’ Throw in a couple of naps and snack stops and your toddler will be much happier on a long car trip. Which means you will be too!

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This article is for information only and should not be used for the diagnosis or treatment of medical conditions. Essential Parent has used all reasonable care in compiling the information from leading experts and institutions but makes no warranty as to its accuracy. Consult a doctor or other health care professional for diagnosis and treatment of medical conditions. For details click here.