Update on Children/Vacations*
Unreasonable parental expectations and poor parental planning mar more family vacations than obstinate children. While traveling with kids will always have its ups and downs, savvy parents can keep the inevitable squabbles down to a manageable few.
Here is what you should know:
- Your primary goal should be kids having fun. Family vacations need not be elaborate or distant and staying with relatives – depending on the relatives – may not be the ideal destination. Fun is getting away from daily routines and regimentation, declaring a moratorium on unnecessary discussions of behavioral issues and school problems, letting your hair down and letting children make decisions. Allow them as much freedom as feasible. Actively participate in their play – which does not include sitting with them watching TV.
- Include children in planning. Participation gives kids a sense of inclusion and accomplishment, helps motivate them, and minimizes their apprehension of the unknown. Show older children maps and brochures of hotels and national parks, for example. Let them choose among reasonable alternatives. Allow younger children to participate in seat selection on airplanes, choose floors in hotels, or select the color of rental cars. Allow toddlers to mail letters concerning the trip, open replies or press buttons on the computer.
- Before going on long vacations, go overnight. Some children, mostly toddlers, sleep poorly in new surroundings or suffer from motion sickness on long car rides. Older children with serious behavior problems can become more difficult to manage in unfamiliar situations, especially in crowds. Check the Internet for information about traveling with children with behavior problems (autism or hyperactivity, for example). Ask your physician if medication given for controlling behavior in school should be continued for travel.
- Consider the optimum length of time to be away. Longer is not necessarily better. Vacations usually result in more togetherness than is available at home – and more than some families are comfortable with. The acceptable “escape valves” from togetherness at home – separate leisure activities, multiple TV sets and children visiting friends, for example, do not exist in hotel rooms and campers. On long vacations, adults may become anxious about missing work. Children may miss friends. Homesickness may cause moodiness. And think twice (or three times) before planning long family trips to solve serious marital rifts.
- Establish ground rules before leaving home. Holiday spirit makes it more difficult for parents to say no. Explain to children that they will see situations and activities that may be unhealthy, age-inappropriate, or hazardous for them, even though others participate. Example: eating food from street vendors in areas of poor sanitation, snowmobiling alone, or going on unsafe rides at amusement parks. Preset rules minimize tantrums and hurt feelings. Decide rotations for who sits where in cars and who decides first which DVD to play. Set limits on the number of souvenirs they can buy.
- Familiarize children with your destination. Once you have chosen one, talk it up, read to them about it, and show them pictures. Especially for younger children, familiarity tops surprises; most kids prefer watching DVDs they have seen a hundred times to a new one – unless the new one has some connection with the old ones such as the same or similar characters or situations.
- Have a “Plan B.” Check weather and other variables to minimize needing plan B. Are there activities available at the beach or ski resort in case of inclement weather? Children fare poorly spending the day in a hotel room – and so will the parents.
- Set realistic ratios between swimming and visiting museums. Don’t fret if children find cultural activities “boring.” Such visits usually do have lasting positive impressions, as can be heard when children later tell (or boast to) friends and teachers about where they have been and what they have seen.
- Allow children to take a favorite something along. You often see kids in airports carrying ridiculously large dolls or stuffed animals – or the classic, a blanket, often jumbo-sized and in shreds. Lugging odd items is a small price to pay for avoiding crankiness. And respect kids’ “territoriality,” seen in such actions as running into hotel rooms to stake out their bed for sleeping or a corner for depositing their toys and other belongings. (Adults do it too, but more subtly.)
- Prepare children for reentry into reality. Make children aware that vacations are not the real world, that strict bedtimes, meals at home, and schoolwork are just days away.
And on your way home discuss where you should spend your
next family vacation.
*This is an update of an article on the same subject that appeared on this website about two years ago, one of the first articles we posted, and very popular.