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5 ways to maintain good behavior while traveling

5 ways to maintain good behavior while traveling

When school gets out and summer sets in, a whole new routine has begun. The day-to-day activities and family interactions change dramatically. Then you add vacations to the already chaotic routine and it can affect your ability to maintain consistency in addressing your children’s behaviors. However, it is just as important to reinforce the behaviors you’re working on with your children while traveling as it is when you are at home. While working as an in-home social worker I often observed two different responses from parents preparing for vacation. First, anxiety and fear around how to give positive and negative consequences when the situations, places, and people are unknown. Or second, complacency about reinforcing behaviors at all. Then, inevitably they would come back home with the negative behaviors they had worked so hard to shape before the vacation, having regressed. Although these responses are different, both can be addressed with a few tips to prepare for traveling. Children should learn that boundaries exist no matter where you are, but that you can still have fun while behaving appropriately.

1. Plan ahead

This sounds obvious, but it’s easy to forget that behavioral situations should be prepared for just as much as deciding what clothing to pack and where you’ll be sleeping at night. Establish a reward system in cooperation with any other adults that will be helping with discipline on vacation. Everyone needs to be on the same page before you leave. Nothing is more frustrating than when, in the moment of responding to a negative behavior, one parent decides to overlook and not give a consequence and the other parent believes a consequence should be given.

There are hundreds of different ways to have a portable reward system, but here are two examples. One fun reward system is to have a picture or color block maze and each time you see a positive behavior the child can color a section in. Then once they’ve completed the picture, they receive a bigger prize or a different toy to play with. You can also print off a basic table reward chart and give them a sticker each time they act positively, or a whiteboard with fun markings, with different privileges associated with the number of stickers/markings they have earned. What is nice about a whiteboard is that negative consequences can be used as well because it can be erased. These type of reward systems are great for the car ride or plane ride, but not as effective if you’re out all day. But if you have ideas in mind, like a special treat they want or an extra activity while you’re out, have them earn these extras through positive behavior.


Once you have decided on the reward system use Preventive Teaching to introduce it to your children in a positive way before the vacation. Children should know the behaviors you expect to see and what types of behaviors will earn a negative consequence, even though you’ll be on vacation. Get your child’s feedback on prizes or rewards so the reward system is as motivating as possible.


2. Be flexible

This leads me to the next point of being flexible with what positive and negative consequences you use. It’s essential to start your vacation with a plan to reinforce behaviors, however, look for opportunities of what might be more motivating for your child to behave well. I would often tell parents that if you plan on giving your child a special treat, buying a souvenir, or doing a fun activity, always tie it into a positive behavior. It’s easy to give your children fun things without having them earn it, but take the opportunity to reinforce a positive behavior in addition to giving them something exciting. The same applies to negative consequences. If they aren’t responding to a reward system you planned in advance, then use the special things you have planned and take small increments away when they are not behaving well.

3. Follow through with negative consequences

I believe it is the hardest thing to do while on vacation. No one wants to give a negative consequence or take away a privilege, especially if it’s going to affect other children or if one parent cannot participate in an activity because they have to follow through with the consequence. However, I promise that in the long run it will help your child respect your boundaries and will change the behavior faster. You can either reinforce a negative behavior once (or maybe a few times) and have your child behave better, or you will continue to deal with the negative behavior the entire vacation, which becomes very frustrating over time. It seems like a child missing out on an activity could ruin a vacation, but if you follow through with the negative
consequence and then immediately look for positive behaviors to reward and help the child work through their emotions, it will affect the trip far less than if you are continually nagging about a negative behavior that never changes. Just as you planned the reward system ahead of time, also come up with how you will respond if your child throws a tantrum in a public area or while in the car/on the plane. Plan how you will stay calm, even if you feel embarrassed. In the moment, give 2 appropriate-sized consequences, and if they still don’t respond, focus on helping the calm down. Then when they are calm you can follow through with the consequences.

4. Give more positive consequences than negative

Maintaining an appropriate ratio of praise to feedback is always important, but especially when there is more at stake to lose if they behave negatively. The suggested ratio is 4:1, or 4 positive interactions to every 1 negative interaction, but the positive interaction ratio may need to be even higher while on vacation. If your child has already received a few negative consequences or is in an especially bad mood, find several behaviors to praise (even if they’re small or seemingly inconsequential) and/or a reward(s) to earn to help them turn their mood around. Children will be more willing to change their behavior for rewards than they will for negative consequences.

5. Slow down

When traveling with children, less activities and a slower schedule will help reduce stress and tiredness. Although your day-to-day routine will not be the same and there will be days with no naps and late nights, try to plan a night in or squeeze in a nap time every few days to avoid the over-tired meltdowns. Even the best rewards cannot makeup for adequate amounts of sleep. Also, slow down to think about possible positive and negative consequences at the beginning of each day and take breaks when dealing with a tantruming child or when you begin to feel frustrated. If you’re not in a calm mood to appropriately teach to negative behaviors, your children sense that and will push your buttons even more.