Monday, April 30, 2012

The Key to Fun Family Vacations

Many thanks to Parkland Life Magazine for permission to reprint this article from my Child and Parenting column. 
The mom and dad sounded exasperated.  They had planned an amazing vacation for their family.  Instead of the laughter, exploring and adventure they had envisioned, it had turned out to be a trip riddled with complaining, fighting and hostility. Their children had all claimed to be miserable.  The parents wondered what they could do to have a fun, peaceful vacation the next time.  Here are some suggestions for creating a vacation that has the buy in of everyone in your family so that you maximize the cooperation and minimize the hostility.

Recall your favorite vacations as a child.  What made them special for you?  As a child, I enjoyed camping in the mountains with my family.  One of my favorite memories is of my little brother and me building our own campfire.  Looking back on the two of us collecting twigs, learning how to stack the wood, and lighting our own fire, I see how it fulfilled all of our six needs – to feel special, to feel powerful, to experiment and explore, to feel valuable, to belong and to feel loved.  Plus, it was fun!  Check out how your children can get these needs met on your family vacation.

One trip I did not enjoy was to Carlsbad Caverns.  It was an amazing place, and the walk was so long in the cold dark cavern that my legs ached horribly.  It is important when planning vacations, particularly with young children, to keep in mind everyone’s physical capabilities.  The luster falls off the enjoyment of a trip when your body aches or you are tired from too much exertion.

Recalling your favorite childhood vacations will keep you in tune to what makes you happy and will rev up your empathy for your children’s enjoyment, too.
Plan down time. We may be tempted to use every waking moment on vacation to be on the go.  This can be over-whelming and over-stimulating.  Activities are exciting.  Over-scheduling can be exhausting.  Know your family members and their limitations. 

One of the things I loved about our camping trips was the time to rest whenever I felt like it and wander around in nature freely.  It is terrific to allow unstructured free time for your children to create their own activities and be responsible for their own “boredom.”  Everyone in the family can use this time to recharge their batteries and get back in balance.  Down time is a terrific mood enhancer!

Respect each child’s interests.  Every child is different.  Remember the six needs and in particular, the need to feel special or unique?  When we respect our child’s interests, we foster that feeling of uniqueness. We want to both support our child’s interests and inspire him to experience new things.  When on vacation, there may be activities that one of your children doesn’t wish to do or isn’t interested in.  Side-step the power struggles by allowing him to opt out or to find an interest in the activity that may not initially be recognized.  For instance, if he has an interest in photography and not such a keen interest in hiking, ask if he will be the vacation photographer and turn the hike into a moving photo shoot.     

Have a family planning session.  This is the core of a successful family vacation.  Think back to our six needs.  Children will feel valuable and powerful if their ideas are encouraged and heard.  Hold a family meeting to involve everyone in the planning of your vacation.  Brainstorm places to go and things to do. Once your destination is decided, have your children research things they wish to do there, and honor their choices.  Have your older children make the plane, car and hotel reservations.  Your children will inspire you!