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The Early Years: Pack the kids in the car - and a dose of sanity

Summer is a great time to travel. Seeing new places, visiting relatives, or just going to the lake are all great adventures. Without adequate preparation, however, traveling with small children can turn what promises to be great family fun, into a very stressful time.

Traveling with young children is challenging. How can we make these summer adventures enjoyable for everybody, including the kids? Children, especially babies, are accustomed to schedules. They like to eat, sleep, and fill their pants at predictable times during the day. During vacation time, it's important to keep our kids as close to a regular schedule as possible. At home, when it's time for your toddler to nap, you read one story, give them a sippy cup of juice, and lay him, or her, down. Try to keep this routine while you are traveling. It is hard for kids to settle down and sleep in strange places. Imagine how much harder it will be for them if their normal routine is different as well. While visiting family, you may be tempted to hurry through the routine so you can continue conversations with other adults. I know I was guilty of this. It took me awhile to figure out why my girls would take forever to fall asleep. I had skipped their familiar routine.

On a trip there will be times when naps don't happen on schedule and bedtimes are later than normal. Kids will survive. However, if we want them to be in their best moods, try to not have too many days when their routine is missed. One solution may be to schedule driving for when your children usually nap.

Try to plan fun activities for your kids when they are at their best. For young children, this is usually morning. They are rested, fed, and ready to go! If you plan a fun outing, like a visit to the zoo at 2:00 p.m., you may run into problems. The kids will be tired if you skipped a nap or cut one short. Tired children don't enjoy or appreciate these activities nearly as much as a rested child. The behaviors we see when our children are tired and hungry are not pleasant, and these symptoms make for a stressful outing for both kids and adults.

As a parent, you know your children best. There may be times when you need to "rescue" them from a doting relative. You can tell when your children need a break by watching their actions, expressions, body language, or listening to them talk. Be prepared to intervene for your child.

Summers are a great time for grandparents to give special attention to grandchildren. It is important that grandparents know a child's routine and work to keep things on schedule. This isn't always possible, but understanding the reasons behind a small child's behavior allows us to use more patience with them.

Traveling with children is always an experience. Some outings are better than others. Try your best to keep their schedule as normal as possible. Try to relax and enjoy spending time with your kids, that's how great memories are made!

Deb Archer writes about early childhood for the Lake County News-Chronicle.