I have to start by saying that, luckily for me, I don’t have anxiety issues. I’m writing this from the perspective of parenting a child who does, and of seeing what works for my family and for others.
What is anxiety?
We all feel anxious sometimes, for example if we’re starting a new job, or just about to sit an exam. But for some of us anxiety is ongoing, and can affect us physically, emotionally and mentally, having an impact on everyday activities. In children and teenagers, anxiety can lead to difficulties at school, at home and in social situations. And anxiety can make trying new things difficult – so family holidays can be tricky. You can find more information about anxiety on the Mind website.
Here are some tips to help you if you’re travelling with an anxious child or teenager.
- Involve the whole family in planning your trip, so that everyone’s on board with the itinerary, is happy with it and knows what to expect.
- If you’ve previously had a successful holiday, consider a return visit to the same place. This can work well for an anxious child, as they know what to expect from the trip.
- Think about the best length of time for a holiday. It can be hard for an anxious child or teenager to be away from home and their regular routine, and your dream of a two-week adventure may be too much for them to manage.
- Prepare and plan in detail every part of your journey, so that it goes as smoothly as possible, from leaving your home to arriving at where you’re staying. (I love using Meet & Greet airport parking* when we travel, as it cuts out the hassle of taxis and shuttle buses. It means that we use our own car to get to the airport and a driver meets us at the terminal to take care of the car while we’re away.)
- Have your itinerary and all of your travel documents organised and in a handy place for the journey, so that your child knows that you have everything under control.
- Pack a small bag for your child for the journey (or get them to pack it themselves, if they can manage it), with familiar snacks, headphones, a phone or tablet loaded with music and films which they enjoy, extra layers of clothing, a favourite toy and some surprise treats.
- Have some familiar things from home which you take on every trip. For example lightweight fleece blankets, reusable water bottles and family games (Bananagrams and Monopoly Deal are our family favourites).
- If your child or teenager enjoys a particular sport or activity, think about how you can build that into your trip For example, if they’re keen on swimming, make sure there’s a decent pool where you’re staying. If they enjoy football, see if you can go on a stadium tour. If they love animals, look for a wildlife-spotting trip.
- Think about what they can cope with happily, rather than what you like to do. So if you enjoy climbing, but heights make your child very anxious, a visit to the challenging climbing wall that you’ve heard about probably won’t be a success.
At the airport
- UK airports have to provide assistance to passengers with hidden disabilities. Hidden disabilities include anxiety issues, as well as autism, learning disabilities and various other conditions. This means that most UK airports now offer a hidden disability lanyard scheme. You can request these lanyards (free of charge) at the airport special assistance desk. When airport staff see someone wearing one of the lanyards it signals a hidden disability and a possible need for extra help or time (for example when going through Security).
- If your child won’t wear the lanyard, wear it yourself on their behalf.
- Choose accommodation which will allow your child or teenager to feel secure and comfortable.
- If it’s important for your child or teen to have online access (to keep in touch with friends, for example), make sure there’s free, unlimited wifi where you’re staying.
- If your child struggles in the heat, book a place with air-con.
- If your child has specific dietary requirements or is a picky eater, check that wherever you’re staying can accommodate this – or book somewhere self-catering.
- Be patient, calm and kind, especially when your child is showing signs of stress.
- Encourage your child or teenager to try new things, but if they’re anxious, don’t force them to do something which they don’t feel able to do.
- Ask your child how you can help them when they’re feeling anxious, and really listen to what they tell you.
Over to you
Do you have any tips to add for travelling with an anxious child or teenager?
*There’s a 10% airport parking discount from SkyPark Secure for Mums do travel readers here. If you click through and book I will receive a small commission.