You've spent all year dreaming of the perfect summer vacation with the kids. But what happens when your dream of a perfect vacation becomes a bit of a nightmare, complete with whining kids and screeching parents?
It's not uncommon to have the "perfect" vacation fail in reality, says Jennifer Kolari, a child and parent therapist and founder of Connected Parenting. "Sometimes we have this belief that it's going to be fabulous, and because we're on holiday, everyone is going to be sweet, and appreciative, and we're all going to get along," she says.
"When that doesn't happen, the disappointment can actually make things a whole lot worse," she adds. "Then you end up yelling, 'you kids don't appreciate anything! You're lucky to be on this trip! How dare you?!'"
If you want your vacation to truly be a vacation – and for everyone to have a good time – Kolari has these seven tips to help you survive summer vacation.
1. Scale back your expectations. Just because you're on vacation, that doesn't mean your kids are magically going to start behaving and getting along. Don't think they're not going to get tired, hungry or bored like they do at home. Be aware of that and try to work it into your expectations for the trip.
2. Stick to routines and rules. A vacation doesn't mean a child's good habits and behaviours should go out the window. Try to stick to set times for meals, naps and bedtime, Kolari recommends, particularly if you have younger children. And if you have certain rules at home (i.e. no hitting, no fighting), make sure to keep them consistent on vacation.
3. Plan your day. Part of the fun of being on vacation is being away from schedules and living spontaneously. But kids love structure, Kolari says, and for many children, the unknown day ahead can cause some anxiety. Try to plan a little structure into the day, even if it's just saying, "okay, this morning we'll have beach time, story time, then lunch, then a bit more beach time…" It gives the day some texture and helps children transition well from one activity to another.
4. Take some downtime. When you've spent a fortune on your vacation, it's tempting to try and cram your days full of activities. But most children need a bit of downtime to help them relax and cope with all the changes. Kolari recommends taking a bit of time each day as downtime. That can be as easy as going back to your hotel room to watch a video or read a few books, she adds. It helps prevent your kids from getting overstimulated – and from the inevitable breakdowns that causes.
5. Know when to fold 'em. Most parents have been there – a day of fun has lasted a bit too long and the kids are melting down. Suddenly you realize if you had left just a half hour earlier, you could have avoided the whole thing. Kolari recommends you try and end an activity or event when the kids are still in a good mood. "Most of us don't do that," Kolari says. "We wait until the situation has completely disintegrated and everyone's ready to kill each other. You have to know when it's time to go."
6. Mean what you say. Want your kids to behave while you're away? The key is meaning what you say and following through with any repercussions, Kolari says. For instance, if you're worried about taking kids to restaurants during your vacation, try doing a "dry run" before you leave. Take the kids out for dinner and tell them that if they don't behave, you're leaving. And mean it, Kolari adds. If you do end up leaving, you've just sent your kids a powerful message. Even if you don't, if you mean it, your children will know you're serious and do their best to behave.
7. Don't forget to have fun. Remember that your vacation needs to be just that – a vacation. Take some time to just play with the kids and let loose. Tickling, bonding, cuddling and playing are all things you can do to make the most of your vacation. Take those precious moments with your children to just enjoy the moment. That will create more lasting memories than anything else.
A journalist with more than 10 years experience, Alison’s work has appeared in a number of top Canadian publications, including glow, Oxygen, Canadian Running and more. She is the former editor of a number of well-respected Canadian and American trade journals and recipient of a Kenneth R. Wilson Gold Award of Excellence in feature article writing. She is a part-time faculty member at Sheridan College’s journalism department, as well as an avid runner and fitness enthusiast.