Vacation Tips For Parents

October 17, 2012 | By

(Re-written and expanded article from Summer ’07 edition of ShrinkRap)

  1. Even though vacations and travel are enjoyable, they are still tiring. Simply trying to leave town and work for a vacation seems to activate Murphy’s Law in every situation. As such, be realistic about the time it takes to get away. For example, consider giving yourself a half- or full-day away from work to prepare to leave (perhaps in a relaxed state, as a new twist!), and a day or two back at home, before you have to return to work.
  2. Allow your children and/or teens to participate in the planning of the vacation. Their attitudes are likely to be better if they feel a sense of ownership and responsibility regarding the plans and activities.
  3. Remember things to keep the kids occupied during travel…games, books on tape, movies, Game Boy, headphones, lap desk, coloring books, pen & pad. Teenagers usually bring their own entertainment…iPod, cell phone, magazines, books. If you are driving, bringing your own snacks, water, and drinks can save you a bundle, if you don’t mind the hassle.
  4. Be reasonable about how many activities are planned per day, and avoid feeling that every minute has to involve some kind of activity. Slow down…breathe…this is a V-A-C-A-T-I-O-N. What makes vacations enjoyable (for many of us) is having some of the days with no plans, and letting the fun happen spontaneously. As goes the Spanish proverb: Happiness is doing nothing, and taking a nap afterward.
  5. At the same time that #3 stresses flexibility, it helps many families to follow somewhat of a schedule, albeit loosely. Talk in the evening about what the family would like to do the next day, including activities, shopping,  meal planning, meals out. Talk about how staying up late is OK, but that also means sleeping late, which shortens the next day.
  6. SUNSCREEN. Enough said.
  7. Get plenty of sleep and rest. If naps or afternoon quiet time worked for you in pre-school, they can work for your family on vacation.
  8. Don’t forget to eat! Between sleeping late, coming and going between the hotel/condo/cabin and water or attractions, and other spontaneity, it is not hard to lose track of time and miss a meal…particularly as your kids get older. It often is not realized until the effects hit…irritability, headache, getting light-headed.
  9. Don’t be shy about discussing the vacation budget with your kids. They need to understand that choices need to be made, even on vacations, and funds are not unlimited. This might also provide a springboard into discussing activities that cost little or nothing, which they may enjoy even more. A certain set of parents I know ask their children to contribute a small amount of their own money to the trip, perhaps paying for all or part of one meal out for the family. Obviously, the amount is not important, rather, it is the symbolic sharing of the contribution and sacrifice, for the sake of the family. I agree—anything we can do (not overdo) to increase our children’s gratefulness and awareness about how fortunate they are, generally gets my vote.
  10. Allow each of your children and teens to take turns choosing the family activities. Stress that when they are participating in an activity they would not have chosen, you expect them to have a good attitude and be a good sport, just the way they want the family to enjoy the activity they choose. If, instead, they act like a “pill,” their next turn to choose may be lifted.
  11. Speaking of children displaying their lesser side during trips, parents should deal with misbehavior swiftly and firmly, and not hesitate to utilize time-out, restrictions, or other consequences (as well as positive incentives) to shape behavior. Children or teens should not be exempt from usual standards, just because the family is away. Parents often tolerate too much negativity, not wanting to “mess up the trip” (as if Junior’s misbehavior could not or has not already done so). I understand their concern, but I’d rather “mess up,” say, part of day 2 (e.g. by having to enforce a punishment) than to have Junior’s unchecked behavior worsen during the entire week (not to mention what he brings out in the rest of the family).
  12. If feasible, it can be very helpful for families with young kids to take along a teenager or college student to child-sit, allowing the parents some time away during the day and evenings. The sitter can be given her own “time off” to play or catch some rays, perhaps during the hot part of the day, when the kids need to be inside or napping, anyway. Teenage sitters often will accept such opportunities for only nominal pay, if any, since they are getting a free trip to some hip and sunny place, with plenty of time for themselves!
  13. Take lots of pictures and videos! Create happy memories of your vacation, so that you can continue to enjoy it when you are home, and for years to come. Some families do wonderful vacation journals, which only increases what will be remembered down the road. Each member might contribute something they enjoyed or found humorous that day, that your chosen “scribe” can write or type into the laptop!
  14. Make it your primary goal, as parents, to model for your children that vacations are rare times to be cherished, where everyone on the family should be trying their best to: (1) have a good time, (2) contribute to the others doing the same, and (3) grow closer to each member of the family. Practice acts of fun, kindness, and love as parents, and reinforce your children doing the same. Play cards and board games. Draw or paint pictures. Take long walks on the beach or wherever you are. Do some things that you don’t normally have a chance to do at home!

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