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Managing Your Child’s Neuroses on the Road

Matt Villano

Forrest Gump easily could have likened kid behaviors to that box of chocolates: You really don’t ever know what you’re going to get.

On the very same vacation day—or really anywhere, for that matter—your child could be a) an angel b) an naughty little imp c) a disciple of Sauron, that crazy-evil eye thing from “The Lord of the Rings” movies or d) all of the above.

He or she also can suddenly sprout a whole host of neuroses. Out of nowhere.

We grappled with this during our recent month-long trip to Hawaii. On previous visits, our toddler, L, had been a little triggerfish; she didn’t meet a pool or ocean she didn’t love. On this visit, however, she decided all bodies of water were terrifying—especially those pools with underwater jets (which means just about every pool in the state).

As if the whole “I-hate-jets” thing wasn’t challenging enough, she also decided she was going to protest toilets with “magic eye” auto-flushers.

Old-fashioned toilets with old-fashioned flushers were fine. But every time we came upon a potty with a magic eye—even when yours truly “blindfolded” the eye with a napkin or t-shirt—my daughter went on strike, and held it in.

(My wife informed me this phobia stemmed from a particularly ugly incident with an overzealous magic eye that wouldn’t stop flushing when L was attempting to make a poop. Apparently, there were tears. Lots of them. Apparently my child also tried to beat the crap out of the flusher to get it to stop. I wasn’t there. Someone had to watch the baby.)

Child psychologists likely would have a field day with these behaviors, probably saying L (and other kids who do similar stuff on the road) adopts neuroses as a way to control unfamiliar environments.

Whatever the reason, we weren’t entirely prepared for these hiccups. And we should have been.

With that in mind, I offer the following advice for managing your child’s unexpected neuroses on the road:

  • Stay flexible. Treat a vacation with the kids like a hike in the Rockies—be prepared for the weather to change at any minute.
  • Practice patience. Once your child gets neurotic about something, don’t chastise him or her for it. Making him or her feel bad about the situation only will make things worse.
  • Suggest alternatives.  If your child suddenly doesn’t want to take part in a particular activity, constructively propose alternatives to keep him or her involved.
  • Stick with it. There’s no telling when newfound neuroses might end. In addition to suggesting alternatives, keep giving your child a chance to resume normal behaviors.

No, this advice doesn’t come with the endorsement of a board-certified professional. But—at least so far—it has worked for us. Generally, L has been slightly less terrified of pool jets, and, this past weekend, on an excursion to another part of NorCal, she occasionally allowed me to blindfold a magic eye (in the absence of alternatives).

Considering where we’ve come from, I consider these tiny steps to be monumental victories. Away from home with kids, you take whatever you can get.

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