Planning a Long Journey with Your Active Child

Planning a Long Journey with Your Active Child

As summer beckons, most people with be looking forward to taking a vacation and enjoying some well-earned rest, but for families with a very active child, the summer vacation can be a time of dread at the thought of tediously long car rides, stuck behind endless traffic lights or having to put up with airport lounges and tiring flights. None of these conditions are particularly well tolerated for an active child and many thrive better with stimulation and routine – both of which are disrupted by travelling. But before you give up and decide not to go away until your child is 18, there are things you can do to accommodate him or her more effectively while you still have your family break.

1.      If you have an older child, you can get him or her involved in the planning stages of the holiday, so he or she stays enthusiastic and interested. If possible, have your child choose where you go, what type of car you will hire, where you will stop along the journey and the type of activities you will do. If your child is able to plan the holiday, it will be harder to become bored and distracted. Some older children with ‘hyperactive’ personality traits find guided tours an easier alternative to planning the journey themselves as everything is set out for them, the days are packed with sight-seeing and other activities and during long journeys trained tour guides can give a detailed history of the area as well as telling fascinating facts and bringing light hearted humor into it. If your child is the ‘dreamy’ variety, you could plan a lower key vacation, for instance, camping at a National Park so he or she can wander in the woods or going to a quiet coastal area where they can inhale the benefits of the sea air and the tranquillity.

2.      Check your child’s diet before you go. Food can be a culprit of troubling hyperactivity symptoms in a bright and active child. The diet connection has only just begun to receive the consideration it deserves from the medical profession. Children today are faced with sugar-laced food, chemical additives and food dyes that weren’t available a few decades ago. Dr. Lidy Pelsser from the ADHD Research Centre in the Netherlands published some research in The Lancet that showed that 64% of children diagnosed with ADHD were actually suffering from food allergies. Dr. Pelsser determined this by putting children on a very varied diet and then gradually decreasing the types of foods given to identify which foods may be causing a problem. Once the offending food items were removed, the majority of the children ceased to have any behavioral symptoms. The temper tantrums went away, they could concentrate better and their memory improved after eliminating the culprit. The NPR news website reported that Pelsser said “ADHD, it’s just a couple of symptoms — it’s not a disease…The way we think about — and treat — these behaviors is wrong. There is a paradigm shift needed. If a child is diagnosed ADHD, we should say, ‘OK, we have got those symptoms, now let’s start looking for a cause.’ ” If your child is one of those whose hyperactivity results from a food allergy, trying an elimination diet may resolve the problematic symptoms before you go away. Don’t let children snack on junk foods during the journey and remember if you dine out at restaurants that you check their meals are free of the allergic items. says that you should always explain to the locals exactly what foods your child is sensitive to and if you’re going self-catering, you should also look into what goes into the sauces, oils and flours you use for cooking and check drinks ingredients.

3.      Avoid sodas too! When going on holiday it is tempting to over-indulge in ‘bad’ foods and drink – like soda and ice cream – just to treat yourself – and the kids will be no exception. However, The American Journal of Public Health says high consumption of sugar containing soft drinks causes mental health problems, hyperactivity and conduct problems in teenagers. If your teenager has aspects of an active, non-conformist personality and you add in high sugar, you may see an amplification of those features. To avoid ‘Soap Opera’ style arguments and a holiday from hell, stick to water.

4.      Shockingly, some parents are drugging their children on airplane flights to cope with their crying. If you have an active toddler or young child, it could be almost impossible for them to sit still on long flights and there’s nothing worse than trying to comfort an inconsolable child while other passengers burn their disapproving glances into you. You shouldn’t, however, be tempted to resort to sedative antihistamines because aside from the fact that a medication is being given for no medical purpose, it can also have the opposite effect and give your child a ‘high’. Having a hyperactive freak out at 30,000 feet is no laughing matter. Instead, bring toys in your hand luggage and give them out in stages so that you’ve got something new to show your child at various stages throughout the flight. If your child has a familiar comfort blanket or teddy bear that helps keep him or her calm, be sure not to forget it. Baby travel sleeping bags are good because you can use them at home in the baby’s crib, in the car seat and on a flight. The familiarity of it may help your baby to feel as if he or she is at home so they sleep better. Older Children should bring hand-held DVD players, game consoles or laptops so they can do things they enjoy while waiting for touch-down. If your finances allow, you should consider travelling in first class so that you aren’t crammed in like sardines and your child has more space to move around.

5.      If you are vacationing to see family or friends, ADDitude magazine suggest booking a hotel to stay in – or you could camp out under the stars. This is to give your children a break from the hustle and bustle during the day, to separate the holiday into more manageable chunks and to give your children their own space that they can just chill out in at the end of each day. If you explain the reason why to your guests, they shouldn’t be offended.


ADHD or Active Child? Accessed May 22, 2014,

Avoid Holiday Havoc: Help for ADHD Children, ADDitude, accessed May 22, 2014,

Pelsser LM, Frankena K, Toorman J, et al. Effects of a restricted elimination diet on the behaviour of children with attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (INCA study): a randomised controlled trial. Lancet 2011;377: 494-503.

10 Things to Do Before You Travel,, accessed May 22 2014,

Study: Diet May Help ADHD Kids More Than Drugs, NPR, accessed May 22, 2014,

Moon and Back Travel Baby Sleeping Bag, The Dream Bag USA, accessed May 22, 2014,

Fenigold Association of the United States, accessed May 22, 2014,

Lars Lien, MD, MSc, Nanna Lien, PhD, Sonja Heyerdahl, PhD, Magne Thoresen, PhD, and Espen Bjertness, PhD, Consumption of Soft Drinks and Hyperactivity, Mental Distress, and Conduct Problems Among Adolescents in Oslo, Norway, Am J Public Health. 2006 October; 96(10): 1815–1820. doi:  10.2105/AJPH.2004.059477

Authored by Jenni Rose

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