Let’s get back to the original statement made in this section: “If you want to catch a fish you have to think like a fish”?   Managing children as they grow up is a lot like that …you need to understand how their brains work and what motivates their behavior to be able to reach them most effectively. Intellect and behavior can be tied to developments in brain growth according to developmental biologists. Scientists used to think that most of the neuronal connections were developed and aligned over the first three years of life. Now they have discovered a second wave of neuronal growth happens around puberty, at eleven years old for girls and twelve years old for boys.  We often make the mistake of expecting children to think like adults when they are not yet capable of doing so.  Meanwhile, they think they are capable of acting like adults because they don’t know better! Twelve going on eighteen! The human brain is not fully developed until late adolescence or in the case of males sometimes early adulthood. It is important that parents know what to expect from their child as they develop and to be sure that the expectations they may have for their child at a given age are realistic.

  • Tweens

    Consciously making the effort to understand your child is one of the most valuable things that you should learn as a parent. Your child has a unique personality that remains consistent throughout life. They are not you. You need to respect that. You can learn about them by simply observing them. Look for the traits that make them who they are. Which kinds of activities do they like best? By observing behavioral clues you can tailor your travel experience to things your tween will enjoy and will be age appropriate. It will make the experience especially gratifying for them and will build strong family bonds.

    Tweens can be very active with lots of energy but they also need to sleep a lot. Their fine motor and large motor skills have become much better so they are not as awkward as younger school age children. They have a strong need to feel accepted and have self-esteem.

    Emotional Development:  Tweens demonstrate their ability to be independent by being disobedient, using back-talk and by pushing the envelope. But they still look to adults for approval. Tweens begin to question family and school rules. They begin to take responsibility for their own actions. They like to join organized groups particularly with others who think like them. They prefer to be with members of their own sex. They look up to and imitate older youth. They want to be accepted by the peer group and think they are the center of attention. They can be extremely self-conscious. They are beginning to build and understand friendship and will begin to look at you, their parents, through a new lens. They also tend to believe that bad things won’t happen to them and can assess risk poorly.

    Intellectual Development:  Tweens see things as either “black or white.” They have interests which change all the time. They are easily motivated and eager to try new things which makes them great travelers. They need guidance from adults to stay at a task to achieve their best. They need opportunities to share thoughts and reactions so it’s good to sit and talk and be presented with “open ended” questions to encourage them express their opinions. Dinners abroad are perfect for that!


    Tweens are old enough to behave like adults on a plane. Reviewing good behaviors such as no kicking the seat in front of them or using headphones for music will likely be greeted with “I know, Mom!” Before you actually board the plane, have your tween organize their carry-on articles so they have at hand what they will actually want with them at their seat and not in the overhead compartment. I usually provide my kids with a small cloth stuff sack for their tablet, headphones, snack items, water bottle, book, sweater or whatever else. This minimizes the need to get up and open the overhead compartment too often which has spare change of clothes, toiletries and things you won’t need on the plane necessarily. When they are first seated, have them wipe down their seat area with a Clorox-type sanitizing wipe including the arm rests, touch screen, remote control and window shade. They should also be instructed with proper etiquette for using the airplane toilet. It’s wise to remind them not to be actually seated on the airplane’s toilet when they flush!!   They need to wash their hands with soap and wipe out the sink for the next person. They need to slip shoes on if they can or at least have their airplane socks on and be careful where they step. If your tween can have a window seat, it’s a great opportunity to discuss what they see below … topographic features, local economies. Discuss geographic concepts such as latitude and longitude, time zones, and Great Circle routes. Reviewing the map feature on the entertainment console can be supportive. [See the Geography minicourse!]


    Tweens are old enough to order their own meals and drinks. Have them address the flight attendant or server, not you. If you need to order any special meals for them, do so at booking time or at least a couple of weeks prior to departure. Enter this information in the airline’s frequent flyer profile for your child. Be sure your tween has a bottle of water as dehydration is common with long haul flights. They should use a hand sanitizer before eating. Provide your tween with some healthy snacks for the flight. They may get the munchies in between meals or while watching a movie!


    Tweens are best occupied by the onboard entertainment options or by tablets such as an iPad, Amazon Fire or a good book, Kindle or paperback. If you bring tablets, be aware that the charge can run out. Maybe download a new game that they can’t use until departure. Bring a spare battery (see the Markeplace section) and be sure to charge your Kindle before departure. Kindles can go weeks with a single charge. Do encourage your tween to sleep on the plane if they can as it will help reduce jet lag and make them feel a lot better. Buy them a special neck pillow or they still might have their own special small blanket. It never hurts for Mom to pack a special surprise game or item (comic book? Teen Vogue?) Let them buy a magazine of their choosing at the airport before boarding.


    About a week before your departure, maybe at the dinner table, have a discussion about how you expect them to behave. They will roll their eyes at you but at least you will have covered the topic. You could also get the info across in the form of a game: What do you do if …. The hotel lost your reservation? They lose their favorite sweater? You get separated while touring? Can they go to the bakery on their own? What are the symptoms of dehydration if you are going somewhere really hot in summer? How much water should they drink each day? Everyone will get cranky one day … what are the best ways to let the family know you need some down time without blowing up?

    Some children adjust to change better than others. What are the limits for your child? If your child gets easily anxious about change, what is our strategy for keeping them informed about what’s going to happen so they relax and enjoy themselves?


    Up to now, we’ve been talking about your tweens behaving well. And there’s no reason to think they won’t. But, if they don’t, here’s some strategies how to deal with it.

    Guidelines For Parental Discipline

    • Discuss with your spouse in advance how you will handle undesirable behavior.
    • Inform your children what you consider desirable and undesirable. Give them the chance to ask questions. Try to be specific. Not being ready on time and holding up the whole family is not good because we could miss our tour. Being rude in public embarrasses our whole family and our country. Using foul language is never acceptable. Shoplifting is never acceptable but in a foreign country can be especially bad as maybe we couldn’t get you out of jail.
    • Make it as clear as possible what the child is to expect if he or she performs the undesirable behavior. Could be loss of electronics. Time out at the hotel. No TV.
    • Remember that your behavior serves as a model for your children’s behavior.
    • If one of you is disciplining a child and the other enters the room, that other person should not step in on the argument in progress.
    • Reward desirable behavior as much as possible by verbal praise, touch or something tangible such as a toy, food or money. Special desserts or room service ice cream could be an extraordinary surprise!
    • Both of you should have an equal share in the responsibility of discipline as much as possible.

    Discipline should be:

    Firm: Consequences should be clearly stated and then adhered to when the inappropriate behavior occurs. Parental authority is not questioned.

    Fair: The punishment should fit the crime. Harsh or extreme punishment is unnecessary. In the case of recurring behavior, consequences should be stated in advance so the child knows what to expect. Using a simple Time Out can be effective even for a tween when it is used consistently every time the behavior occurs. Escalating loss of privileges can be enforced. Better yet, use of reward for a period of time like part of a day or a whole day when the kids were terrific is highly recommended!

    Friendly: Use a friendly but firm communication style when letting a child know they have behaved inappropriately and let them know they will receive the “agreed upon” consequence. Encourage them to try to remember what they should do instead to avoid future consequences. Work at “catching them being good” and praise them for appropriate behavior.

    Negotiate issues in age-appropriate ways. If your tween doesn’t like peas, you might ask, “What vegetable would you like instead?” If they want to eat pizza every day and nothing else, what the heck? (Pick your battles.) It’s vacation. Make it clear it won’t carry over to home! Need something green every day! Then you order something and rave about it. Or enforce the “one bite rule” where they need to at least try something new if they want to have a dessert later. Laugh at the Yucky Foods section of Food & Dining for the country you are in. Is their food choice there?

    Respond to criticism with a reasonable question.  If your child says “I’m too tired to go out, ” tell them you are going out ..you are super excited to see all this cool stuff. Ask them to pick what time you should stop for a rest. “How would you manage this? What do you think?  Hot chocolate at 11:00?”

    Manage your own temper. If your child is driving you nuts, go into the other room and Take Five ( or Ten, or Fifteen!) before trying to talk. Avoid emotional responses.

    Write down solutions. Get the family together and appoint a Recorder who makes a list of everyone’s ideas. Writing things down validates people’s ideas, makes them more included and outcomes more acceptable. Discuss the solutions openly but don’t allow criticism of anyone’s idea.

    Let your child win sometimes. Pick your battles wisely and remember that changing your mind does not mean you are losing. You might say, “OK, I agree with you. But next time, let’s discuss this without the blow up, okay? That’s not fun for anyone. This was much better!”