Our family loves to take road trips. It’s something my husband and I started doing years before we started having children. As each child joined us, we realized we needed to make some adjustments to our road trip routine if we wanted to keep liking one another. Gone were driving through the night and twelve hour travel days. In their place came practices that have allowed road trips to be a fun part of our family traditions – even for our kids with ADHD.
The first, and most important, piece of advice I can offer is that respecting the needs of each family member is of critical importance. This truth is universally applicable, but it becomes increasingly important when you cram your family into a small space for hours at a time. Recognizing and respecting the needs of your kids makes all the difference. Here are my top tips for successful road trips with your ADHD child.
PLAN IN A LOT OF BREAKS
Check out your route and find places of interest you can stop for a break every few hours, or as often as needed. Parks, museums, picnic areas at rest stops, anything that allows your child to burn some energy. When my boys were younger I used to stop at a restaurant with a play land for lunch. I would sit and eat my lunch while the kids ran and climbed and hollered and played. After I finished my own lunch, I would round up my kids and buckle everyone back into their seats. Only then did I give the kids their lunches. I knew they would rather be playing than sitting, and I knew we would all be happier once they’d had a chance to exhaust themselves.
We used to make the same fourteen hour journey to visit my grandmother prior to her passing. I came to know which rest areas were clean and which were horrifying and everything in between. I made stopping at the nicer rest areas part of our trip. Regardless of anyone needing the facilities or not, we stopped. The boys ran on the grass for a few minutes and we would be on our way. These planned stops let your ADHD child get the movements his or her body requires and make the entire trip more pleasant for everyone.
BRING SEVERAL DIFFERENT TYPES OF ACTIVITIES FOR USE IN THE CAR
Some ADHD kids have one or two topics upon which they can hyper-focus. If your child has a favorite activity or subject, bring it along. That being said, few ADHD kids have the focus necessary for one activity to fill an entire road trip worth of time. Try providing a variety of activities. I usually bring a few favorite toys, an art project, coloring book or activity pad, school work, a good book or audio book, a couple of games and a couple of movies. If we are going on a particularly long trip, we try and find a new movie or two to toss in for the kids. Variety is key.
PLAN YOUR MEALS AND WATCH WHAT YOU EAT
An older mom recently told me that the key to a happy road trip is to keep the kids fed and watered. I agree, with a few caveats. Don’t use food as a cure for boredom. It’s a bad practice and can lead to unhealthy habits at home.
Don’t give kids free reign over a bunch of junk food. If your kids are eating a lot of foods they normally do not consume, their bodies are going to feel different than they normally do. For kids with ADHD this can be a distracting and emotionally upsetting reality. Many of these kids are hyper aware of changes in the way they feel and can be thrown off by eating fat, sugar, and preservatives in quantities much higher than they normally do.
It follows then, that you should focus on packing snacks that you know are healthy and tolerated well by your child. I try and limit the snacking to a mid-morning and mid-afternoon snack. I often break out a piece of fruit or some other finger food that the kids can eating during one of our breaks from the car. I also pack enough to provide a couple of other snacks or replace a meal for one of my picky eaters if need be.
As for drinks, we put a water bottle in everyone’s cup holder so they can drink as much or as little as they need. I also purchase a gallon of filtered water and bring it along. I refill the emptied water bottles and do not have to spend money on overpriced drinks full of sugar and artificial ingredients. Many times we have reached our destination only to discover that the local tap water is not to our liking. The gallon of filtered water has saved us many times.
Many children with ADHD are extremely well versed in reading the emotions of the people around them. If you’re stressed out or upset, chances are your child is too. So remember to take care of yourself on these road trips. Bring activities, music and snacks that make you feel good. Your attitude will set the tone for the entire trip, so make it a good one!