A couple of years ago, I was attending our church’s Christmas Eve service. A gentleman came up to me at the end and complimented me on how well behaved my daughter was. He also remembered that she had been equally well behaved last year.

I admittedly LOVE it when people compliment me on my kids and I was super keen to tell him my secret.

I talk to her in advance about what’s going to happen so she knows what to expect. I tell her what’s going to be fun about it and what she may not like.  

He let out a skeptical laugh. Was I joking? Was I serious? Did I actually think that worked? He wasn’t sure.

My daughter was a year and half at the time (and 7.5 months the year before).

He was right to think I was crazy. But I knew I wasn’t.

I have been doing this since she was born and she always adapts to whatever situation is thrown her way.

A Christmas Eve service that starts after bedtime.

A plane ride to Mexico with just the two of us.

Staying up late for fireworks.

28 hours of travel overseas.

Imagine being thrown into a new situation, where you have no idea what to expect. You’re getting tired because it’s late and you don’t know when you’re going home. You’ve never seen this strange food and you’re not sure about it. You don’t know why you’re at this random person’s house or why you need to sit still for so long. You have no idea what’s going on and why your parents expect you to behave differently.

You’d probably be a bit afraid and unsure. You’d probably push back because you don’t understand.

Now imagine you had been told exactly what to expect and what to do. You’d probably feel a bit more confident and sure about yourself. You may even be like “I know what to do. Let me show you how it’s done.”.

Here’s what to do if you know you’re going to break routine.

I start a few days in advance of an upcoming change of routine. I may even start earlier for bigger changes like a plane ride. This is how it might go.

Next week, we’re going to go on a plane. We’re going to take a big, long car ride to the airport. We’ll have to park our car far away and get on a bus to take us to the airport. Then, when we get on the plane, you’re going to have to sit on my lap the whole time! It’ll be fun at first but you might want to get up after a while. But you have to stay sitting on me. We’ll bring a bag of snacks and toys to play with. You’ll have to sleep on mommy for your nap. It might be uncomfortable at first but we’ll figure it out together.  When the plane takes off and lands, our ears might hurt. But it will be ok and I’ll be with you the entire time. To fix our ears we can suck on a lollipop or practice yawning (and we practice yawning before we get on the plane). We’re going to have to sit in one spot for a long long time but it’ll be worth it. Because when we get there, we’ll get to go swimming every day and play in the sand every day. It’s going to be so much fun. I think you’ll love it. But first, we have a long plane ride.

breaking routine, travelling with children, plane, routine,

You might be thinking my child is too young to understand. He doesn’t need to know all this. I am wasting my time.

But here’s why this helps.

True, your child may not understand every word coming out of your mouth. But what if they understood half? Or a third?

We don’t know how much they’re taking in. The other day my 14 month old was asking to play with me and I told him that I needed to brush my teeth first. He walked right to the bathroom. I was like “Whoa, he actually understood what I just said.”

I’m sure you’ve experienced something similar. Our kids understand so much more than we think.

Talk to them like they understand everything. But don’t expect that they do.

They may get bits and pieces of what you’re saying. Parts may sink in. Parts may be lost. You might feel like an idiot talking to a baby. You may feel like it’s a waste of time explaining details to a toddler.

But you have nothing to lose and everything to gain. What if it helps? What if it actually makes life a bit easier?

Even if it doesn’t sink in with your child, it will help you.

By going over everything that’s coming – good and bad – you’re going to feel better. You’re going to talk about the unpleasant things like sore ears on take-off and how you’re going to get through it. 

If you don’t talk about it out loud with your child then you risk getting the worries stuck in your head.

What if his ears hurt, what if he starts screaming, what if he won’t stop, what if everyone around me gets pissed off because I have a screaming baby? This endless stream of worrying about the what-if’s won’t happen if you’re talking through things with your child. You’re not going to go on and on about the bad things. You’re going to talk about them so they know what to expect and then you’re going to tell them why it’s going to be okay.

This will calm you down because you’re focusing on making it okay – on the solution more than the problem. And if your child doesn’t understand your words, they will definitely understand your calm demeanor.

So whether it’s a late dinner with family, a plane ride, or eating out. Talk to your kids in advance. Take the time to teach them about what to expect.