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How young is too young to travel?

Children benefit from seeing how different people live around the world

CNN News Wire | 4/2/2014, 10:36 a.m.
The child was screaming and out of control as he and his mother boarded the aircraft.

The temperament of the child and the parent are key in deciding if a child is ready to travel or not, says Yale Parenting Center director Alan Kazdin, a Yale University psychology professor and author of "The Everyday Parenting Toolkit."

A mellow, organized parent can handle changes in flight plans and food and can teach those strategies to his or her child. The parent who gets frantic easily may not go with the flow when faced with travel delays, jet lag or even the "wrong" kind of chicken nuggets. "And that predisposition will be passed on to your child," says Kazdin.

Do young children benefit from travel?

There are those parents who've taught their children to behave in changing situations and who can adapt when weather, flights and different languages affect their plans. And they tell stories of trips abroad that benefited both parents and children.

Coronado thinks her daughter benefits from learning about new places and cultures before they travel, then seeing the reality. Before a 2012 trip to see family in Italy, Coronado borrowed books from the library to teach her daughter about the places they planned to see. That got Michelle, then age 5, excited about the trip.

Before a 2010 trip to the Philippines, Coronado told her daughter that she could ask her parents about anything she saw that she didn't understand.

"She can whisper her question to us and we'll try our best to answer her question," writes Coronado. When Michelle saw a homeless girl begging on the street, it turned into a (quiet) conversation about poverty, hunger and having a safe place to call home.

Parents can benefit as well. Scott Ribich and his wife took their two sons, ages 3 and 1, to Machu Picchu to mark their 10-year anniversary. The Fort Wayne, Indiana, couple researched getting young children to adapt to high elevations in Cuzco, and they dealt with a little altitude sickness on the second day of the trip.

There were also unexpected rewards.

"Traveling with young children and spending time on the playgrounds with the local children and meeting the kids and their families is something you don't normally get to do when you are just two adults traveling somewhere and gives you a completely different perspective."

Choose your travel wisely

Not convinced and still want to avoid those kid-filled flights? That's why Leman schedules his business trips early in the day -- and not during school breaks. But if he's traveling with younger children, he schedules those trips later in the day.

"I don't want to wake a 4-year-old at 4 a.m. to get on a 6 a.m. flight to see Grandma," he says. "Some of these problems we create are brought on by ourselves."

Better yet, drive (if you can). Before Leman had sold a lot of books, he'd pile all five children in the back of the station wagon for the annual summer drive from Arizona to New York.

Although he says it's not his normal parenting style, there would be rewards at the end of each driving day for the children who didn't get three strikes. "I'm not a reward-punishment person but if you're trapped in a car or cylinder at 35,000 feet for three hours, I'll do anything to keep those kids in check," he says. (As long as it works.)