Child psychologist Karen Hathaway contributes her ideas to this post on how to get the most out of your family holiday...
It’s easy for parents to put a lot of pressure on themselves when it comes to family holidays – after all, it’s something we save up for and look forward to all year, and it’s easy to see those precious one or two weeks as the antidote to everything that is less than perfect in our lives.
We expect the stress of our daily lives to melt away as soon as we step off the plane or out of the car. But relationship and parenting tensions don’t magically disappear just because we are in a different place with our family, in fact they can often be exacerbated.
Spending long periods of uninterrupted time together, perhaps in a more confined space than usual, can have everyone tearing their own and each other’s hair out. But with a little advance planning and thought, you can increase your chances of returning refreshed instead of frazzled and with a renewed sense of family togetherness.
Involve the children in decisions
Ask your children to help you decide where you will go and what you will do so that they feel involved. Even young children can help with this, saying whether they want to go to the beach, the waterpark, for a bike ride etc. Write down one or two things you would each like to do and take the list with you, but be clear that this is a ‘wish list’ and not set in stone!
Less is more
There are two reasons why each person only gets to pick one or two things to do. The first is that on holiday, less is more. Creating a packed itinerary and trying to do too much creates unrealistic expectations and more work, and you risk feeling like you’ve failed if you don’t achieve everything on your list.
Factor in enough downtime
The second reason for a ‘light’ itinerary is that you need to ensure there will be enough downtime where the only expectation you have of your children is that they have fun. This could be paddling in rock pools, making a den in the garden with children from another family, or riding their bikes around a campsite. These activities are not overly rule-dependent, help them to get rid of excess energy, and allow them to develop independence, which all make for happy children and happy parents. Consider revising your itinerary if you haven’t allowed enough time for these types of activities.
Discuss your parenting approach before the holiday
Counterbalancing is when one parent is more indulgent to compensate for the other’s more authoritative style. This can cause frustration for both parents, and can lead to one attempting to undo the actions of the other, as opposed to making decisions based on what is best for the child. If you don’t normally spend much time parenting together, it can be tempting to criticise each other and slip into competitive parenting. Avoid this by discussing in advance to what extent you are going to relax the rules around behaviour, bedtime, chores etc. on holiday, and which rules are not up for negotiation, and stick to this.
Happy parents make happy children
One of the things children enjoy most on holiday is seeing their parents more relaxed, having fun, and being more emotionally available. They might not remember which museums and restaurants they visited in years to come, but they will remember simple things like walking along the beach holding hands and having time to stop and look at things. To this end, make sure each parent has time some time on their own to recharge their batteries, whether that’s a massage or a walk into town. Couple time is important too if it can be arranged, so it’s worth getting a babysitter, or swapping childcare if you’re with another family.
Time with you
Being on holiday is a good opportunity to turn off your phone, set an automatic reply on your email, and focus on having quality time with your child. Most of us can hold our hands up to being distracted by work and social media even when we’re supposed to be off duty, and children really do notice and appreciate having your undivided attention. By all means let them go off and play while you sunbathe, but also allow yourself to get absorbed in building sandcastles, have a water fight, play hide and seek, and see how much fun this can be for all of you.
Karen Hathaway is a child psychologist at Children's Therapies and can help with emotional and behavioural difficulties, ASD, ADHD and parenting support. If you would like to talk to Karen about your concerns or make an appointment, please call us on 0208 6737930.