School’s in session!
For families that don’t homeschool, the start of another new school year often begins with a very important question: Who will teach my child this year? We ask this because we recognize the significant impact a teacher has on what a student actually learns. But who is your child’s first━and arguably most important━teacher?
Spoiler alert: It’s you!
Our children learn so much about life from watching us, and family travel━with all of its close quarters and uninterrupted time together━magnifies that effect.
Think of your next journey with your child as a wide-ranging classroom with frequent-flier miles, and consider the potential of everything they might learn. What do you want to teach them?
Here are some of the key lessons we teach our children during family travel━whether intentionally or unconsciously. Want the lessons learned to be positive ones? Read on for ways to channel your inner Teacher of the Year!
LESSON: HOW WE RESPOND TO SETBACKS
Was your family given the wrong room during hotel check-in? Miss a flight? Did you get lost on the way to your next stop? Flat tire? Did your lunch arrive with a hair on it? Wallet dropped into the water during a dolphin cruise? (Been there!) Like it or not, when things go wrong━and they absolutely will at some point━our reactions set the bar for the way our kids will feel about the situation. They may watch us get angry, panic, or cry in frustration, and file it away mentally under “How to Respond to Adversity.”
- Take a breath (or two or ten) until you can find a calm voice.
- Express in a simple “I feel” sentence which emotion(s) you are experiencing: “I feel sad that my wallet dropped into the water, and I’m tired just thinking about the credit cards and license I will need to replace.” These statements signal that it’s normal to have feelings about challenges, and it’s useful to express and deal with those feelings. That’s one reason I created the Journey Jotter activity called “How is Everybody Feeling?”━it encourages kids to identify people around them who are expressing a selection of emotions. The activity gives kids useful language for what they are witnessing, as well as a way to process things over which they have no control (ie. other people’s feelings).
- Remind yourself (and your child): instead of saying “Why me?” we say “What now?”━instead of focusing on your misfortune, this question switches your brain into a proactive, problem-solving gear.
- Let your kids see you asking others in a respectful way for help with your situation, and they’ll be more likely to ask for help when they need it.
- When the dust has settled, ask your child how they might have handled the situation. Would they have done anything differently? Not only will you be empowering them as problem-solvers, but they might just surprise you with a solution you hadn’t thought about!
LESSON: HOW WE CONNECT WITH OTHER PEOPLE
From the server in a restaurant, to the park ranger leading your hike, to a person asking you for spare change, to the great aunt at the family reunion, travel emphasizes the interpersonal. Make no mistake: your child watches your every interaction for clues about acceptable ways to treat others, and how to insist on respectful treatment for yourself. So, unless you’ll be traveling to an uninhabited island ...
- Say “please,” “thank you,” and “excuse me.” If it’s the minimum you’d expect from your child, make sure you get caught saying these phrases.
- As in the popular children's book, fill up someone else's bucket with a compliment, tip, spare change, or a shout out to their manager or on social media. Let your child assist where possible.
- Even if you can’t be complimentary, avoid making someone else’s job or day unnecessarily harder. Maybe you didn't love the dinner conversation at Grandma’s house, but you can still let your child see you clear the table, and enlist them to help.
- Talk to other people, especially those with a different life experience than yours. Ask someone about their day, their life, their perspective. Share a laugh with someone. Learn from someone. Whether your child simply observes your conversations or joins them, they are building the confidence to connect with others and judge when a situation feels safe or not.
- Stand up for your personal boundaries. Sometimes while traveling, a situation or interaction with another person (familiar or not) may make you feel unsafe. When that happens, unapologetically remove yourself from the situation and/or request help. As soon as you are able, explain to your child why you chose to take action (ie. unwanted contact, personal space invaded, threatening language, or just a general gut instinct), and which person you looked to for help in that situation (ie. employee with a name badge, a first responder, a parent with their children). Establish a family codeword with your child that they can use with you if they need your assistance enforcing their own boundaries while traveling.
LESSON: HOW WE PROCESS NEW PLACES AND EXPERIENCES
Travel puts us in touch with new sights, smells, sounds, and sensations. Sometimes new things can be novel and fun, and sometimes they can feel confusing or overwhelming. The ability to remain open to unfamiliar experiences and make sense of them is a skill that can be built. It’s at the heart of every activity in Journey Jotter Books, and it’s one you can model for your child.
- Be observant and curious, out loud. When you see something new to you, point it out to your child, and give them your attention when they do the same for you.
- Try everything once: a new food; a sentence in a language you don’t typically speak; or an activity you haven’t attempted before.
- Connect new experiences to familiar ones, using objective language: “This soup contains some different spices than the kind I make,” or “This music is made by different instruments than I’m used to hearing, but the song lyrics are about love, just like many songs I know.” Focusing on concrete similarities and differences between the new-to-you and the familiar encourages your child to think critically without getting bogged down by judgements of “better” or “worse.”
- Pose questions for your own further learning. When you encounter a topic that makes you want to learn more after your travels are done, share that with your child. Brainstorm where you can look for more resources on the topic at home.
LESSON: HOW WE PRIORITIZE QUALITY TIME WITH LOVED ONES
No matter the reason for travel or the destination, family travel presents countless opportunities for us to engage with our kids. With a packed itinerary or many other people to consider, ensuring quality time with your child can feel daunting; but thankfully, it truly is about quality instead of quantity. Using any of the following strategies will help you to carve out a few all-important moments in your travel, and your child will learn to do the same as they grow.
- Simple but effective: tell your child how much you are enjoying your time with them. Tell them what you have most liked doing with them, and ask what they have enjoyed doing with you.
- Ask for your child’s input, when possible, in planning some parts of your travel; the act of planning━when shared━is a great way to log quality time! Check out this post for the first and most important step in planning together.
- Put your device down a few times a day, for at least 20 minutes. Bonus points if you stash it during mealtimes!
- Create a travel tradition with your child’s help. Keep it small in scale and easy to reproduce wherever you go. Ideas could include: splitting a signature dessert; taking a morning or evening walk together; or writing and exchanging postcards with one another about things you are each enjoying.