Ways to Make Day Trips Less Stressful
Set expectations – Be sure to let children know what to expect. Clearly tell them, “We are going to the doctor. We will wait in the office and then Dr. Smith will see you. I will be with you if you are afraid or have any questions.” If you are doing more than one thing, let the child know, “We are going to the supermarket, the post office, and then the park.”
Provide support for the child to be successful – Some children benefit from having information in writing or in a drawing format. Reading stories in advance that discuss what is going to happen can reduce anxiety. Images from stories including social Stories provide a way for children to see what is expected of them. Use illustrations and/or words during an event to reassure children.
Involve children in planning the day – Often children are told what to do and have little ownership in decisions. Letting children make a few choices in an outing helps them feel they are a part of the process. For example, let the child pick which errand the family does first.
Praise children for a job well done – As you go through the day, be sure to reinforce children for listening, following directions, and being kind to others. This shows children they get more attention for following the rules and routines than for breaking them.
Update children regarding timetable changes – Schedule changes are likely to happen on a regular basis. When changes occur, let children know what the change is and how it will affect their plans. For example, “James, the library is not open. We will still go to Aunt Jen’s but we will go to the library tomorrow.”
Plan for delays – Rarely do things go exactly as planned. Prepare for basic concerns such as hunger, boredom, and delays by packing snacks and portable activities like games or books. Make sure to have a back up plan if restaurants or shops are busy.
Let children be involved – Children are less likely to break rules if they are busy. When you are shopping get the children to help you locate items. If you are in the doctor’s surgery get the child to help you fill out the forms by eliciting their responses to simple questions like name, address, etc.
Be consistent – If you create a reward system where the child earns something for doing X, Y, and Z or a promise is made for the child to get something after going to the shops, be consistent. If you say, “You get to play your game when we get home if ….” be sure to reinforce them only if they actually accomplished their goal. When children are given mixed messages about rewards, the inconsistency can lead them to expect rewards when they have not met their end of the deal. Although it may be difficult at first, children will quickly learn you mean what you say if you hold your ground.