How Important Are Familiarity, Routine & Consistency For Nomadic Babies & Children?

Parent Comfort

Image by Shavar Ross

Are we doing the right thing? Will the travel and disruption of uprooting our little one every few months be upsetting or bad for them? Will they feel unsettled and insecure all the time?

Those were (and still are) some of the key questions we ask ourselves regularly as we trot around the globe with our 6 month old. We’re not nomadic for the sake of it, the purpose of our travels is to find 2-3 places in the world that we can call “home” and shuttle between as and when we feel like it. But until then, we’re very much nomadic, homeless hobos!

As many of you have pointed out in the comments of other posts, travel with a baby is relatively simple versus travel with toddlers and younger children who are more mobile, demanding and able to throw major tantrums…but travel and a peripatetic lifestyle can be unsettling, whatever the age of your child.

When faced with unfamiliar strange faces, languages and surroundings, babies and children usually have a couple of tactics to cope with this – they either switch off or play up but there are ways you can help to ease the transition for them.

Familiarity

I’m pretty sure that finding ways to ensure some familiarity for babies and children as you move around helps them feel less at sea whenever you move; it can be as simple as carrying a few favourite toys and books with you to regular visits to Starbucks – you might scoff at that last suggestion but I can honestly say that the fact Mali has been used to going to Starbucks with us from the age of a few weeks old, means that whenever we head to a Starbucks anywhere else in the world, it’s familiar for her.

Routines

I’m sure most parenting manuals advocate the establishment of routines and this becomes even more important when you’re crossing time zones, messing up their circadian rhythms (sleep patterns) and turning their worlds upside down.

The bed time routine we use for Mali means that wherever we are in the world, she knows when it’s time to sleep (or at least try to!). It worked brilliantly for us when we left the UK and headed to Dubai and then again when we moved on to Thailand – a time zone difference of 3 hours to begin with and then 7 (from the UK). Jet lag was almost non-existent and within a couple of days, she’d returned to her normal sleeping patterns. It’s not so much specific times that you want to stick to but activities and the order of those activities.

Consistency

Another one from the parenting manuals I suspect (I’ve never read any!), consistency is also important when leading a nomadic lifestyle with your children. We’ve had to be conscious of maintaining a consistent way of handling certain situations (e.g. when Mali wakes up at night crying) while travelling but at the same time being conscious of the fact that the travel could be unsettling and causing the problem.

It’s a fine balance to strike between being consistent in your parenting approach but also being aware that the nomadic lifestyle may require you to be more sensitive to your child’s needs at times – and responding differently, as and when needed.

As ever, we all have different parenting approaches, so I’d love to know how you ease the stress that transition, travel and unfamiliarity can cause for your children…how important do you feel that consistency, routine and familiarity are and how do you maintain them?

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4 Responses to How Important Are Familiarity, Routine & Consistency For Nomadic Babies & Children?

  1. Lis Sowerbutts

    January 10, 2010 | 4:27 am

    I loathe and hate routine – its one of the reasons I work for myself and a huge part of why I haven’t had children. I am totallly not convinced that kids need a routine – we travelled for months in Australia – and the long-term travelling kids we met there all seemed to be doing just fine. I think routines are designed to train us into being wage slaves and living with a boring job – so do your kids a favour and drop the routine!

  2. Dee Andrews

    January 13, 2010 | 11:46 pm

    We have always traveled with our two daughters, now 7 and 11, and I do agree that some familiarity, routine and consistency make it less stressful for everyone.

    We are recently back in the States after living in Spain for a year and after the initial three months of traveling, we were all ready to find a “home” for the next six months. The girls couldn’t wait for school and its routines and social opportunities. As they were older, we also relied on Skype a lot to stay connected to friends and family in the States, and we traveled with posters full of pictures that they could put up where ever we were.

    Adding routine and accommodating your kids while traveling for extended time or living abroad does change the experience but that doesn’t mean it has to be negative. It’s just different. And better than not going at all, IMO.

  3. AlisonG

    January 14, 2010 | 7:41 pm

    We spent three months in Beijing with our 3.5 yo and 2 yo kids, and we saw first-hand that familiarity and routine really helped our older daughter settle (our 2yo didn’t miss a beat).

    A lot of this is common sense, but things like: her favourite stuffed animal and blanket, a storybook anthology with many familiar books that we read before bed, crepes on Saturday mornings just like at home, visiting KFC after school every day, often eating at the same neighbourhood restaurant and always ordering a bowl of plain rice for her. She seemed to like developing routines, and would ask to back to a certain park or shop. We also talked about where we’d been and where we were going to help her feel more secure.

    I noticed it took about two weeks for our daughter to settle into a new place: first our apartment, and then her Chinese kindergarten. When we first arrived, she would complain about smells and new tastes and ask to go home, but that petered out and soon she found things to enjoy in Beijing.

    Our kids’ need for stability and routine is a key question for us in deciding how nomadic to be and when. So I’d love to see what more experienced parents have to say, and also to learn about other resources available on this subject.

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