Our second daughter, Dancer, is home from college for Labor Day weekend. It has been such a treat having her here. We planned some family time yesterday. We decided to run to a nearby town that has a very nice miniature golf course and then we were going out for a bite to eat.
I told the kids on Sunday morning that we were going to do this. We have never told them ahead of time when we are doing these types of activities...correction...after learning the hard way. I remember when they were little we'd plan activities and tell them with excited voices what we had planned. Then to our confusion they'd begin to scream, yell, fight and act out in every way imaginable. They did not act even slightly excited about going. They would fight in the car while on the way. Once we were there they would try to run off, join in with strangers and avoid us, complain, tell us all our faults and in general make the time miserable. Why?
Fear. Their brains have been wired so that change, (good or bad) puts them into the fright, flight or freeze mode. Any car trip seems to put them into this mode. I imagine it is because car trips when they were little generally meant they were being taken to a new family with whom they would live.
What we have done. First of all we don't not give advance notice. It only produces anxiety in them. Right before we calmly explain what we are going to do. Give them activities to do in the car. We find that headsets with mp3 players are best. They bring books to read if they are not the ones who get motion sickness. We had one who who wet his pants in the car EVERY single trip, no matter if it was only an hour. Simple. They make Goodnights that are pretty doggone large. He would wear one of those. Buy a package of M & Ms and hold them in your lap. Every 15 minutes or so (maybe less if it is really bad) pass them out a couple to those who are riding nicely. Before you get out calmly explain any rules such as: "Dad walks in front. Mom walks in back. You will walk in between so we can keep you safe. If you need for us too, we will hold your hand. You will show us if you need that by how you walk." Make sure to get involved in what you are doing and not just focus on the child's behavior. If you are going to a relatives house, bring along simple board games such as Don't Break the Ice and play with your kids while there. Soon relatives will join in and play. Next thing you know there won't be spot for you and you can go visit. Take the kids for a walk part way through the day to burn off some energy. If they get out of hand, give them a "time in". Have them sit near you quietly so they are safe. When they show you they feel safe they can go play.
When I told the boys we were going Bear announced that he wanted to go to the pool. He likes to go up there and water the flowers and skim the pool for leaves and such. The lady who manages the pool buys him a pop for doing little chores around the pool and he enjoys it. It helps her out. Bear is 17. I told him he could choose what he wanted to do. He chose to stay behind. It was sad for me but I know he needs to prepare for leaving home. He needs to be able to make choices and live with those. I'm sure it was an easier day for him and it actually was easier for us. At the same time he was missing by choice so it was kind of odd. He will come around in his own time. It may not be as a teen. It may be as an adult because of some difficult situation but I will never lose hope. I hope you don't either.