Next Step Therapy Blog: The Travel Fairy

special needs
Tracy Cowles, CEO and owner of Next Step Therapy, submitted the following article on “The Travel Fairy” (Some Genius’s Gift to Parents Taking Children on a Road Trip).

I despise being in a car for any length of time. It bores me to tears, especially if I am not driving, and at this stage in my life, causes me back and leg pain that can be crippling. I have never enjoyed riding in the car. At our house, we refer to it as “windshield time.” I long for the day when teleportation is invented, ala Star Trek. To be able to “beam myself up” to where I want to be….priceless.

One thing that I have learned over the years as a parent and a therapist is that people in the parenthood cycle of life have a vast spectrum of tolerance for various behavior. Some parents can’t stand a cluttered house, some parents don’t notice. Some parents insist on proper table manners, while others allow their children to wander the whole house with food in their hands. I personally cannot tolerate whining. A child whining makes the hair on the back of my neck stand up, bile rise in my throat, and my teeth to clench until I get a headache. Can’t take it.

Hopefully you are seeing where I’m going with this…..loathe riding in the car, can’t take kids whining….I would rather stick a fork in my eye than drive from Pennsylvania to Disney World. Seriously. We now have a rule at my house that if we can’t afford to fly, we can’t afford to go. But, that’s just me.

My Ex took both boys, his brother and sister-in–law, their daughter and their nephew, a grand total of seven people, in his mini-van to Disney a few years ago. The mere thought of it made me puke a little in my mouth. I could not imagine……

Sorry, I regress. The point of all of this is that when my boys were approximately six and one, we decided to drive them to North Carolina for a week to see their Paternal Grandparents. They had decided to retire to better weather and had not yet seen the youngest. I was excited about seeing them, excited about the kids getting grandparent time, and excited about exploring North Carolina. I was not, however, excited in the least about the drive down and back. So, I mentioned it at work a few weeks before vacation (probably doing some whining of my own!).

The office secretary, Lyn, said matter of factly, “Well, why don’t you use the Travel Fairy?” I lifted my downtrodden eyes, tilted my head, and said, “What is this Travel Fairy of which you speak?” And, Lyn told me. And I suddenly wasn’t dreading the trip nearly as much. Because Lyn had just taught me the secret – the secret of making a road trip with kids fun.

It goes like this:

Step 1: Prior to vacation go to dollar stores and clearance racks. Pick up small “prizes” that are age appropriate for your children. These can range from treats such as lollypops to games appropriate for the car. In my case, I spent a little more money on a few items – a new DS game for the oldest, a Wiggles video for the youngest.

Step 2: Wrap these items like presents, using different paper for each child so you can tell them apart. Load in a zippered tote bag. Place goody filled tote on floor of passenger seat.

Step 3: Explain to children that like the Tooth Fairy, there is a Travel Fairy. Explain that they have not heard of Travel Fairy because she only comes on LONG trips. Explain that if they behave well, they can expect surprise gifts from the Travel Fairy. Give children your list of required behavior (no touching each other, no arguing, NO WHINING, go to the bathroom when told so we don’t have to stop every twenty minutes, etc.)

Step 4: At first stop, everyone gets out of the car, but one parent says, “Oh, I forgot something in the car,” or “I think I forgot to lock the car.” That parent returns to car, pulls a prize for each kid and puts it on their seat. As nuts as this sounds, I had an absolute blast trying to think of different reasons to return to the car while not getting caught.

Step 5: Kids return to car and are crazy excited that the Travel Fairy came. They open present, and have something new to play with for the next hour or so.

Step 6: Repeat steps 4 and 5 throughout trip. Use Travel Fairy as threat if poor behavior begins.

It worked! It worked brilliantly! As a matter of fact, this Travel Fairy was a bit of an overachiever and had more “prizes” than were necessary for in the car. Therefore, the kids found some prizes on the hotel bed in the evenings for a stellar behavior day while on the trip. Meanwhile, for the trip back, they had a stockpile of stuff to do, in addition to the new items they were receiving.

I am well aware that some people will say that you shouldn’t have to bribe your kids with prizes for good behavior in the car. To those people I say, “You are not a parent” or “It has been so long since your kids were small that you have blocked the memory.” Young kids can have trouble entertaining themselves in a house with seven thousand dollars’ worth of toys. Expecting them to manage ten or twelve hours shoehorned into a car seat is a joke. They get stiff and sore, too. They get bored, too. Under eight, most kids don’t have a firm grasp of time. Very few kids are going to enjoy that ride. Plus, its vacation, so splurge a little!

The Travel Fairy turned something I was dreading into a truly fun adventure, for all four of us.


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