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Your preschooler should be ready to actively participate in your holiday travel. During the planning stage, spend time with him to explain where you're going and why, and ask his opinion and advice about some of your choices. Show him photos of your destination to spark his imagination so he'll look forward to the trip.
Even the most outgoing child can feel anxious about getting to or being in a new place. To help your child adjust, plan to spend quiet time together while you're in transit (if possible) and — most important — once you reach your destination. Make sure you bring along toys, blankets, and other familiar items from home to help him feel as secure as possible.
Your child is probably beginning to grasp the concept of simple games, which makes it easier to entertain him during trips. Play games such as I Spy to pass the time, or put a tape of holiday music on in the car and sing along.
For long trips, pack a goodie bag with little toys such as miniature cars or trains, action figures or dolls, crayons and coloring books, or hand puppets. Wrap a few toys or books as surprises to be dispensed along the way to ease the tedium of travel.
Look for safe opportunities to let your child get some exercise while you're in transit. Plan for rest stops during long car rides to give your fireball a chance to move around. If you're traveling by plane, let him spread his wings at the airport before boarding.
Holiday time means more cars on the road — and a greater risk of accidents. Pay particular attention to how your car seat is installed. The National Safe Kids Campaign found that over 80 percent of child restraints are used incorrectly. Common errors included using the wrong seat for a child's age and size, not securing the seat tightly in the vehicle, and not securing the child correctly in the seat.
You can make sure that your child's seat is properly installed by visiting a child passenger safety seat inspection location — find one on the National Highway Traffic Safety Administration's website or call (866) 732-8243 for locations.
If you're headed home for the holidays by air, you may want to consider booking a nonstop flight. That way, there's only one ear-popping descent to worry about (young children have a hard time coping with the uncomfortable pressure changes that accompany landing) and you won't risk missing connections. Also, with nonstop flights you avoid the hassle of lugging everything and everyone to a connecting flight.
To keep your child safe during takeoff, landing, and the event of turbulence, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Federal Aviation Administration (FFA) recommend that children under the age of 4 be securely fastened in certified child restraints while flying.
Remember, bad weather during the holiday season can put a crimp in even the best-laid travel plans. You might even have to hole up unexpectedly in a hotel for a day or more. And it's no party holding a dirty, hungry child on a crowded airplane as it circles an airport. Pack a carry-on bag with extra diapers, clothes, food — whatever you think you might need if you're delayed.
And since disrupting a child's schedule can cause problems such as tiredness and crankiness, try to stick to his usual sleep / wake times — better to find a room where he can take a nap than to spend the rest of the day with a child who is overtired.