Preparing for a Road Trip with an Anxious Child


anxiety with a toddler road trip

This fall, my brother’s wedding in Ashville, North Carolina, will bring our first family road trip. Sure, we’ve driven an hour here or there, but nothing like the eleven hour drive we’re now facing.

To complicate matters, highway driving causes my four-year-old extreme anxiety. It started at the age of two, when she developed motion sickness. It’s been almost a full year since she’s thrown up in the car, but her anxiety has lingered. Every time we go anywhere, be it just down the road or a longer day trip, she asks in panic, “Are we getting on the highway!?” As common with toddlers, she doesn’t know how to harness her anxiety. She often spends the drive crying and panicked.

Given our unique challenge, I’ve done my research on how to make it through this trip. Here are some of the tips and tricks we plan on utilizing!

Leave at an Odd Hour

We’ve decided to leave the house at 3 a.m. when the kids are still groggy and sleepy. Our hope is that they sleep through the morning hours as we beat rush hour traffic.

Electronics are Your Friend

A long drive is not the time to limit screen time. We plan on loading up the iPads with fun movies and games.

Bring the Comforts of Home

My daughter still uses a pacifier to sleep. It’s like her security blanket. Even though we’re trying to curb her habit, you’d better believe we’ll be bringing it for this drive as well as her favorite stuffed animals, blankets, etc.

Play Their Favorite Music

Thanks to a summer spent at camp, my twins have discovered Top 40 music (Enough Old Town Road already!). They even have their own Spotify playlist. Singing along to their favorite tunes is a great distraction!

Aromatherapy to Calm an Upset Stomach

My mom introduced us to these ”smellums balls” which we douse with peppermint and lavender oils. These scents are known to calm tummy troubles and ease anxiety. We keep them in a little mesh bag for each child to clutch in the car. My daughter seems to really believe that it works and that’s all that matters!

Utilize Potty Training Tools at Any Age

We always bring a travel potty in the car, even though we are beyond potty training. It’s much cleaner and faster than running into a McDonalds!

Games and Toys to Distract

When my daughter falls down the rabbit hole, the only way out of her panicked state is through distraction! Below are some toys and games I’ve purchased for our trip in order to keep her mind busy.

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The best laid plans often go awry. I know that in the world of toddlers, nothing is predictable. My hope, however, is that our planning will give us a slight advantage over my daughter’s anxiety. And if not, well, there’s always noise canceling headphones!

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