For those of you who haven’t already taken your summer vacation, you still have time before school starts. Vacations, especially long car trips, with small children can cause anxiety for parents. I’ve experienced this first-hand—as I’m sure many of you have, as well, though I admit there were far fewer electronic devices for my children. For those of you who are new to the game and unsure of the best way to prepare for traveling with your little ones, here are a few suggestions:

  • DEPENDING ON THE LENGTH OF THE TRIP, it can be helpful to leave just before naptime or bedtime so that the kids sleep in the car (though I know that isn’t always possible).
  • THE AGE-OLD “I’M BORED” STATEMENT IS MAGNIFIED in a car when your child is safely strapped into a seat belt or carseat and can’t move. While there are many electronic options available such as DVD players, touchpad tablets and compact video games, try to use some of the time in the car to actually talk to your child. They can’t escape, so it’s the perfect time to engage them in conversation.
  • YOU ALSO CAN PULL OUT THE OLD-SCHOOL GAMES like I Spy, which, for the younger crowd, can help teach colors and names of objects, or keep track of license plates and try to spot all 50 states. Search the Internet for other car games that are creative and don’t rely on electronics.
  • IT’S IMPORTANT TO STOP EVERY TWO TO THREE HOURS to let young children stretch and to feed and change diapers for babies. For kids in between diapers and being fully potty-trained, it’s a good idea to use a training diaper in case a restroom isn’t convenient when they need to go.
  • ONE THING MANY PEOPLE FORGET is to have a change of clothes (or two), within reach in case of a potty accident, major diaper blowout or spill. There’s nothing worse than having to unpack at a rest stop because you didn’t keep extra clothes at the ready.
  • WHEN CHILDREN GET HUNGRY, their attitudes can change drastically, whether it be whining, crying or arguing. Take along a cooler with snacks and drinks so you aren’t dealing with a hungry child and there is something to break up the monotony.
  • BEFORE LEAVING, dig in the toy box for some travel-friendly toys that can be wrapped. You can present a wrapped toy every hour or so to keep the kids excited. Often, forgotten toys are regarded just as highly as new ones.
  • IF YOU’RE TRAVELING WITH A BABY, it’s even more important to plan ahead and be flexible. Try to have a variety of toys and books to offer. If there are two adults and room to do so, consider having one person sit in back with the baby to offer some soothing when needed. If you’re nursing, make sure to stop to feed your baby. It is never OK for a baby to be out of a car seat while the vehicle is moving.
  • MOST IMPORTANT, STAY CALM! Your anxiety and stress can rub off on your children, making for an uncomfortable ride. Enjoy your vacation and the rest of your summer.

Dr. Joseph Kahn is president of Mercy Children’s Hospital Services, mercy.net.