Travel Discipline or Travel Lessons I Learned in First Grade

by Jessica on February 23, 2011

I feel like I need to offer a disclaimer right here at the beginning. My children are not now, nor will they ever be perfect. They regularly fight with each other, whine when asked to clean their room, and complain about the food I feed them. I am told that this is normal and I sincerely hope that is true.

Now I feel as though my conscious is somewhat clear to talk about some discipline strategies that I have learned that make traveling with children easier. Actually, I learned most of these little tricks when I was a first grade teacher. If you have watched a group of six year olds, you won’t be surprised to learn that first grade teachers actually schedule lessons in walking in line. The biggest educational component of the first week of school in first grade is learning how to make a line, walk in line, sit in line, and generally move together as a cohesive unit. I found that once I had more kids than hands, I needed to use some of these tricks in my little family to help our travels go a little smoother.

• Ducks in a Row. Maybe it’s all kids, but my kids certainly seem to avoid walking in a direct path at all costs. They meander this way and that, stopping to touch whatever seems interesting on the way. There are some places where this is tolerable, but when we are traveling, there seem to be more places where we need to walk the straight path, as it were. If I call out “ducks in a row” they have learned to get in a line directly behind me in age order. I learned that we had to do it in age order or they would push and shove to be the one at the front. Recently, the older boys have informed me that they are deeply offended by the use of the word ‘ducks’, so I just call out ‘in a row’ now. Whatever works, they say.

• Find your Pockets. Kids touch things. Some kids touch everything. Some places you will visit will view touching very poorly. I ask my kids to find their pockets when I need them to remember not to touch. Often this will happen in an art museum, but I use it occasionally when we are just walking and they are messing with each other.

• Put your hands under your pockets. What is it with kids and touching? When kids are bored they often get in trouble with their hands. All it takes is an innocent poke in the ribs that turns into a poking contest that turns into a full on brawl in the aisle of the train. Put your hands under your pockets just tells kids to sit on their hands, and a few moments of hand sitting is long enough to diffuse the situation and save you from embarrassing yourself on the train.

• Backs against the wall. Imagine you are walking the streets of a foreign city with a map in one hand and a string of children in the other. You need to stop to read your map and get your bearings, but if you look away for a minute, you might risk a wanderer continuing down the street. Backs against the wall gives kids a safe place to stay put while you take your eyes off them for just a minute to find your way. You can do the same thing with ‘hands on the car’, a lifesaver if you have to unload a stroller and 10 pounds of luggage.

• Grab a pocket. This is the safest way I have found to travel across a busy street or airport with a small passel of kids. Almost always, I am pushing a stroller, so I don’t have free hands to hold for safety. My older kids will grab a hold of my back pocket so that I can feel that they are with me and safe, but still use my hands for the stroller.

• Three Penny Fairy. In a perfect world, kids would do everything parents say just because. Sure. Sometimes kids need a little positive encouragement, and vacation is a good time to do something a little special in the discipline department. I offer my kids three pennies to put in their pockets, or lately, three silly bands to wear. As long as they are following instructions, they get to keep their pennies. At the end of the day they can trade each penny they have kept for a dollar, which goes into a souvenir fund to use at the end of the trip.

I wish I could tell you that these tricks worked like magic, but they do require a large amount of practicing at home to work while traveling. Luckily, running errands, sitting in doctor’s offices and just general living give us lots of time to practice. Make practicing fun. Make a silly game out of getting in a line, cheer and shout when they put their hands in their pockets, see who can keep their back on the wall the longest and give a little prize. Soon, you’ll have a whole new set of tools to use during your travels to make it more fun for everyone.


ICStarzz July 19, 2011 at 6:23 am

“find your pockets” that’s cute.
I love this top ten, these are great tips!! :)


Good Girl Gone Green July 19, 2011 at 9:28 am

I like the backs on the wall and hands in your pocket! Great tips for when my little one is older! Thanks for sharing!

Dawn @ 5 Kids and a Dog July 19, 2011 at 12:38 pm

Those are all great ideas! My kids are older now but I see where we could have used a few of these when they were younger. One thing I did use a lot is “Hands in your pockets”- the same as yours. It helps keep them from touching everything. Great list!

Courtney July 19, 2011 at 12:55 pm

These are great tips. My kids meander and touch everything, too – I’ll be using “ducks” and “hands in pockets” for sure.

myanmamomma January 25, 2012 at 10:42 pm

Thank you! Always, always looking for good ideas for travel discipline. There is a sweet spot of empathizing/understanding the world from their perspective (airports overwhelm me too), predicting what might cause a metldown and trying to prevent it (read: SNACKS and some focused parent kid interaction, which I sometimes have to remind myself to do when I just want to "relax" after finally making it through security), and responding to misbehavior in a context where timeouts and other dicipline methods just won't always work. (I once tried to get my way- past- exhausted = out of control young dd who has a natural inclination for drama to sit for a timeout in a crowded airport… big mistake).  I think the penny idea might have worked much better! :)

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