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Why we travel with a sensitive child, by guest blogger Bronwyn Joy

No one ever said traveling with young children was easy. And anyone with a Highly Sensitive Child can tell you that doing anything that requires leaving the house, be it flying to Italy or going to the supermarket for eggs, can be a challenge. We try to do everything in our power to make our trips, short and long, as easy and comfortable as can be. My bottomless “Mary Poppins” diaper bag (which only contains two diapers) will be filled with anything we might need: sweet snacks have to come in the chocolate, strawberry and vanilla variety and salty snacks in cheddar and original to satisfy any craving that might come our way; an extra change of clothes in case ours get dirty or worse, wet; a specific water bottle with water at a specific temperature; some favorite toys; some favorite books; and a fully charged phone in case of a public meltdown nothing in the diaper bag will stop but an episode of Tayo the Little Bus.

Despite the challenges however, we can’t keep our kids indoors and sheltered forever. I have learned with our sensitive child that nothing has helped him grow more than getting a gentle nudge out of his comfort zone. I wrote about this a few weeks ago (Pushing a Highly Sensitive Child) after having read a beautiful post by the talented Bronwyn Joy on her blog, Journeys of the Fabulist.

It gives me great pleasure to share this guest post by Bronwyn with you, and I know her words will touch and inspire many parents as they have touched and inspired me.


I’m going to pretend you’ve come over to my house to ask why I’d travel with a sensitive child. I’ll offer you tea, and position myself awkwardly in front of the jellyfish my kids drew on the wall using some sort of magical marker that is the very opposite of washable (it actually seems to come back brighter and brighter the more we scrub) in the hope that this will cause you to not notice it.

It's like some occult rune which neither solvent nor natural, eco-friendly powders can erase.

It’s like some occult rune which neither solvent nor natural, eco-friendly powders can erase.

You’re going to wonder aloud if it’s worth going away with a travel partner who finds the airport too noisy, security too invasive, planes too cold, food too weird, taxi seats too scratchy, hotel mattresses too lumpy, and water from strange showers too “prickly” – and doesn’t know how to control their reaction to any of this, even just a little bit.

And I’m going to nod, because there was a time when I didn’t even know water could be prickly. And when I thought “prickly” was the worst possible display of self-control.

And then I’m going to change my mind about wanting you to see the jellyfish and I’ll reference it in a couple of jokes about how anything is better than staying home with my two, and in any case, when someone’s constantly turned up to ten, what’s the difference if you take them to eleven?

But eventually, if you seem genuinely interested in having a proper conversation about it, I’ll explain both my reasons for travelling with a sensitive child.

  1. I like to travel.

  2. I believe sensitive children can cope with the world.

“Our favourite technique is to take him on dubious excursions and later point out that he didn’t die.”

Of course we want to accept our kids for who they are. But ultimately we know we can’t let them grow up as if they’re the centre of the whole universe, because truthfully they aren’t. So we give a bit and we teach them how to give a bit, too. We gently refuse to be ruled by their extreme reactions to small things, and we hope, by and by, that they won’t be ruled by them, either.

We start small. We dream big.

Sometimes that means dragging them from their comfort zones and into foreign places to have new experiences. They’ll be sleeping on the train. They’ll be eating next to strangers. They’ll be face to face with real, live jellyfish.

For some reason, people will think they're asking out of interest, not fear.

For some reason, people will think they’re asking out of interest, not fear.

But they’ll survive and that’s a good thing to learn. Gradually, through these experiences, they’ll acquire the tricks they need to manage life on their own. Tricks like “if you don’t like being in front of the camera, volunteer to be the one behind it”, and “always keep up with the latest in jellyfish first aid”.

Our aim is to stretch them, not break them – by managing our itineraries carefully, except when we find ourselves badly misinformed or unfortunately delayed or just forget; and by using games, toys, books and other equipment to steer ourselves through. We never fail – instead, we have “learning opportunities”.

In fact my husband tells me I create more “learning opportunities” than most people he’s met. But my real superpower is wanderlust.

No seriously, wanderlust is my superpower

I couldn’t work that hard or put up with that much or endure that many “learning opportunities” without something pulling me onward, and for me that something is the thrill of the open road, or closed aircraft (I’m not actually too crazy about open aircraft).

These look cool, but I can't guarantee you I'd use one.

These look very cool, but I have limits. Source: Richard Schneider via Wikimedia Commons

For you, it could be interpretative dance, or extreme restaurant-going, or football. A sensitive child doesn’t have to go far to find a challenge to rise to, but he does need someone to go with him, and gladly. To actually drag him along, in fact, but with an enthusiasm that overcomes all obstacles.

And that’s why

you can come to my house and drink my tea and pretend not to notice the indelibly-drawn jellyfish I’m standing awkwardly in front of and ask me why I travel with a sensitive child without fear that I’ll guilt you into doing the same.

I believe sensitive children can cope with the world, but your passion is your best guide when it comes to teaching them how.

P.S. If your passion is also travelling, or if you’ve been forced to do it anyway for some reason, I’ve written about travelling with sensitive children over at Journeys of the Fabulist. I’ve also started collecting on my Travelling with Sensitive Kids Pinterest Board.

P.P.S. I’m taking cleaning tips for those jellyfish drawings.

I write about kids, travel, geography, history, culture, social responsibility, logistics, marine biology, civil engineering, and sometimes, coffee or wine (plus anything related) but most frequently and usefully about how we manage to travel with young children, how we get along as foreigners in Singapore, and the stuff we accidentally teach our kids.– Bronwyn Joy


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