When New Is Scary on a Family Trip

This one likes the Tube; the other, not so much.

This one likes the Tube; the other, not so much.

Especially when kids are young, family travel forces them to see, smell, hear, taste and touch things they never have seen, smelled, tasted or touched before.

Most of the time, these new experiences go swimmingly and everybody oohs and aahs over how cute it all was. Sometimes, however, new stuff can trigger a DEFCON-1, global-thermonuclear-war type of meltdown. The kind that leads to silent crying. The kind that makes passersby think your child needs to be institutionalized. For life.

We’ve encountered both realities during our first 10 days here in London. Thankfully, the wins outnumber the losses. Among the victories: The stoop in front of our walk-up, river busses, old cathedrals. Among the losses: Bangers, crowds near Buckingham Palace.

For R, who freaks when she hears loud noises, the biggest debacle so far has been the Tube.

The mere mention of the subway sends the kid into hysterics. As we approach the station, she frantically clutches for dear life. When the trains enter the station, she covers her ears and screams. On the trains, she acts like a baby marsupial, burrowing her head into the nearest armpit until the horror ends.

Powerwoman and I have responded to these theatrics cautiously. On one hand, we don’t want the kid to freak. On the other hand, we don’t want to coddler her too much, especially since the child is going to have to get over it once my wife starts teaching (that’s why we’re here through Xmas; the fall semester starts Sept. 9) and I’ll be riding the trains with the girls solo.

I hope that the more we expose R to the Tube, the more comfortable with it she becomes. Of course this plan totally could backfire, and she could end up hating it even more because we won’t give up.

The conundrum raises an interesting point about the difference between comforting and dishing out tough love on a trip. How much do you bend before you break? How much are you willing to give your kids what they want before you start making them based upon what they need?

Obviously answers to these questions will be different for everyone.

The act of asking them, however, can be a good exercise—especially if you run through it before you’re in the moment trying to manage a maniacal kid.

My advice: Unless a new experience could physically harm your child, keep at it as long as it seems sensible (and kind) to do so. Put differently: Don’t let a little crying or standing on ceremony deter you from introducing your kids to new stuff away from home. Change can be scary. Disrupted routines can suck. But the more you expose your kids to these realities at an early age, the better equipped they will be to handle them as travelers later in life.

How do you handle it when your kids are spooked by new experiences on family trips?

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