Traveling with Kids: 6 Ways to Shift Your Thinking and Feel Less Stressed


Is summer travel with your kids stressing you out? There is no shortage of blog posts with great ideas to make traveling with your kids smoother. But have you ever thought about the impact of your own thinking on your travel stress?

Simply put, it is the way we think about a situation rather than the situation itself that produces stress. If you are able to identify unhelpful thought patterns and shift your thinking,  you can do a lot to minimize stress. This is the framework behind Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), a short-term targeted therapy that is highly effective for reducing worry.

What does this mean for traveling with littles? Below are 6 strategies to shift your thinking and make the ride a whole lot smoother.

1. Identify Your Predictions:

When we worry, we are making a series of negative predictions. For example, feeling generally anxious about flying with your kids can be broken down into a series of negative predictions. For example, maybe you are predicting that your child won’t take a nap on the plane. Perhaps you are worried there will be delays or that a time zone change will be disastrous for bedtime. If you can identify the specific predictions, you can do something about them.

2. Worst-Case vs. Best-Case Scenario:

I ask my clients to identify the worst-case, best-case, and most likely scenario they are imagining when they think about their predictions. Categorizing your thinking in this manner helps to tame anxious thinking and prevent rumination. So, to continue with our no nap example, our worst-case scenario is a skipped nap and a cranky child, our best-case scenario is a kid who sleeps the whole flight, and the most likely scenario is somewhere in the middle.

3. If the Worst Happens:

Once you’ve identified your worst-case scenario, you can come up with some productive, concrete strategies to cope if it happens. This is where all those great articles about traveling with kids come in handy. Pick a few (think 2-3) strategies so you don’t get overwhelmed.

4. How Long Will This Matter?:

We often overestimate how long a negative or feared situation will impact us for. So, ask yourself, if this worst-case scenario happens, how will I feel about it in a day, a week, a month, a year? Will you care today or tomorrow if your kid skips his nap? You bet you will. But will you still care about it the day afterward or later in the week?

5. Coping Statements:

One great way to challenge negative thinking is to come up with fact-based, compassionate coping statements that offer reassurance. For example, something like “I can do anything for five hours” or “I can breathe through this.”

6. Radical Acceptance:

Radical acceptance, one of the tenets of Dialectical Behavioral Therapy (DBT), means accepting any situation as it is, without judgment. Central to radical acceptance is the recognition that fighting reality creates additional anguish and suffering. For example, if your child doesn’t nap on the plane and you are ruminating about what you should have done differently, you will inevitably feel worse. Instead, try compassionately and non-judgmentally acknowledging the reality of what is happening.

So, take a deep breath, shift your thinking, and safe travels. You’ve got this momma!