I was fortunate enough to get away this year. My three children and I went to Gran Canaria for the first time, and it was just what the doctor ordered. However, as parents of children with ADHD will know, it’s not that simple. I mean travelling with children is hard work. Sometimes you get to your destination and find it’s harder than being at home. You know, shame shite, different place kinda feel! This does appear to be quite normal.
However, travelling with children with ADHD is this tenfold. And it doesn’t stop after they grow out of the toddler phase. In fact, in some respects, I find it harder. At least when they are toddlers, other parents give you the sympathetic look that they understand what you are going through, the terrible twos. If only it were just this! There would at least be light at the end of the tunnel, a couple of years of tantrums. But this tunnel goes on and on and on. When my daughter has a meltdown at 12 and uses every expletive under the sun, I just look like a weak mother who cannot control a wayward teen. Plus, she is nearly as tall as me and definitely stronger.
It could almost prevent me from travelling, but I love flying, I love to travel and so, like a phobia, I need to overcome the fear and deal with it. Here are my top ten tips for travelling with children with ADHD.
1.Familiarity – Obviously not always possible, but if you have had a great experience somewhere, go again! Kids with ADHD feel safe when they know where they are going and roughly what to expect. I have holidayed a few times in Turkey over the past few years. Would I love to go somewhere else, personally yes, does it make my life easier knowing exactly what the hotel offers my family, yes! Going back to the same hotel ensured my daughter was less apprehensive, knew the layout, couldn’t get lost, and already knew roughly what her daily routine would look like. It definitely made it easier.
2. Flight times – whilst not always possible, try to pick a flight time that is good for your child with ADHD to travel. I learnt this the hard way one year, landing at 2 am and having a 2-hour journey at the other end. Silly me shall we say? Sometimes for a few pounds more, getting that flight time that will suit your child will really save you. This year I was lucky enough to get amazing flights to a country with no time difference! Win!
3. Plan – Talk to your child/children about the holiday. Let them know exactly what to expect well in advance. I use a countdown on the calendar. Tell them exactly what time the taxi is coming to take you to the airport, how long you expect the journey to be, that you must check in first, the duty-free, snacks, etc.
My daughter loves to know exactly every step of the way. You could even do a mini checklist for them on the day. The detail of the checklist would depend on the age of the child but keep it simple and basic.
I also have chats about behaviour before we leave when they are calm not during a meltdown! My daughter had a huge meltdown on arrival at Turkey airport when the luggage took ages to come through. She completely lost it and wanted to storm back through passport control and get back on the plane home. Even security men with machine guns didn’t deter her. I now pre-empt this by ensuring I have one last party trick up my sleeve for any unforeseen delays after the flight, be it edible or a game. We now laugh about how awful that was, but it is more to keep reminding her about how bad it was and how we could have behaved differently.
Another time she ran off in a tantrum in an enormous airport. I had my other two with me, who were only very young at the time, and our carry-on luggage, in a queue waiting to board. She kicked her brother who started screaming and bolted. My only saving grace was that I knew she would never go out of eyesight from me, even though I couldn’t see her! She came back thankfully. But ever since then I have written my phone number on all my children’s hands (they do know it, but in a panic, they may forget it) and their flight number. It was such a terrifying moment, the joys of travelling with a child with ADHD as a single parent.
4. Medication – Always take their medication in hand luggage, preferably with the prescription label on in case you get asked what it is and who it is for. Never risk putting it in checked-in luggage that could go missing.
5. Airport clothing – Try to ensure you have easy-to-get on and off clothing for when you go through scanners. Avoid belts, jewellery and difficult-to-get-on and off shoes. I even do this for myself. Limited jewellery, usually just my watch, no belts, and easy shoes. The frustration of practically stripping to make it through the beeping machine is too much even for me!
Make sure they have warm layers so they can take off or keep on as much or as little as they need. Nothing can make my daughter lose it more than getting too hot and then freezing on a plane. This year she even packed her own blanket, let’s just say we didn’t fly Emirates…
6. Lanyards – I love a sunflower lanyard. These have been a complete game-changer for us. Wearing one of these flags up to airport staff that your child has a hidden disability. Genius idea! I prefer to take one with me rather than find the customer service area at the airport. One year they only had sunflower stickers at the airport, these, of course, came off and there was nothing for our return flight from Turkey. The one I bought was from Amazon and is highly recognised by most airlines now (click here to see my one, I do get a small commission if bought through this post).
My daughter loves hers. She feels really special, like a VIP as she gets taken through areas without, or with limited, queuing. Queuing is like a red flag to a bull for our kids. My daughter can cope with most parts of travel except the queuing and there is always a lot of queuing at the airports!
7. Ear defenders – Again, love these! I bought mine from Amazon again (these are the ones I bought). It cuts out all the noise for them which really does keep them calm. I have noticed a huge difference when she wears these. Loud noises can really put them on edge, these are great. Although a rather abrupt customs officer told her to take her headphones off and blushed a fair bit when I explained they were noise-reducing ear defenders…
8. In-Flight Entertainment – If you are lucky enough to be flying somewhere with the little screens on the back of the seats then yay! But, if like me you were flying on a budget airline then you must make your own entertainment. I always download a loved movie onto my daughter’s iPad for trips, preferably two! The risk of a new film that she might not like is just too much for me! Plus she still loves the repetition. I also pack a battery pack.
However, in case of delays, I also ensure that we have an abundance of fidget toys, games, books, and magazines in case even the battery pack gets used up. My daughter has dyslexia and really does not enjoy reading books but doesn’t mind reading the small bits in magazines. One year with her friend who came with us we bought them a first aid kid. They spend the entire time bandaging each other up, it was fabulous! I also like a mini whiteboard and pen so they can play noughts and crosses or hangman. Oh and UNO, don’t ever leave home without this! It’s amazing how much they like these games when you remind them of them.
9. Praise – So important! If you have had a great flight with them, praise them! Tell them why you are so pleased with them. How well they did, how proud you are. Maybe treat good behaviour with a lilo or a little bit of spending money, age-appropriate. Our children need as much praise as is humanly possible to give. They often suffer from low self-esteem, boost it, and encourage positive behaviour. If something did go wrong, then talk to them about it another day and have a discussion about what happened, why it possibly happened and talk about things you could do better next time.
10. Routine – Whilst it is not possible to stick to your normal routine on holiday, get into a holiday routine as quickly as possible. Again, write down the times for breakfast, lunch, and dinner if you are in a hotel, or at least what time you plan to have these meals. Talk about the next day’s plans the night before. Take their input too so they can’t moan at you if they don’t like what they are doing!
Kids with ADHD need to know. They are not good with change, and already being on holiday is a huge change. Pre-empt all that you can. Mine may not go to bed as early as they do at home, but they know what the holiday bedtime is. We had very strict mealtimes this year in our hotel due to covid with several sittings required. This worked so well for my daughter as she had precise times, which she loved!
So, those are my top ten tips. They are all pretty doable and they really have made a difference to help me travel with my children with ADHD. I think the take-home point really is to not have ridiculously high expectations. Yes, it’s a holiday and you will have fun, you’ve just got to get there! I think of it in chunks to be honest: locked the house up, tick; loaded the kids into a taxi, tick; survived the taxi. tick; found check-in, tick!; checked in etc. Just think of that cocktail at the other end, the sun and the water or whatever pluses your holiday may have. It will be worth it, just plan it, talk about it and do it!