While many of us plan big vacations, often the summer is more memorable for those day trips, be it to the track, hiking, canoeing, playing at the lake or just meeting friends for a picnic. The options are endless, in the bountiful options of upstate New York.

Yet, depending upon the temperaments of your children, these day trips can be joyful or filled with conflict. If the kids are whining, complaining and bickering the whole time, it simply robs the day of ease and pleasure. Often there are seemingly endless negotiations throughout the day, and this too is exhausting. Let’s turn that misery around before it happens!

The Day Trip Game Plan

The key is to understand that children function better when there is a clear set of boundaries and explicit expectations. And, if you understand this, it’s also critical to know that this is NOT enough. We also need to know how to set limits in ways that teach our kids to honor those limits. (Please remember that word: teach.) Here’s how I like to do that when it comes to day trips with the family.

  • Be Prepared To Practice…Not Expect Perfection. Teaching limits, and using this plan requires practice. The first couple times may appear to be failures, but yet you will be ‘teaching’ with predetermined consequences. So please, just let the system do the teaching, and don’t try to protect the kids from the consequences of their poor choices.
  • Ultimately, Mom and Dad Decide. Get input from the kids about activity, and then let your kids know that you will ultimately decide. You wouldn’t want to leave the children with the sense that you center every decision around their wishes. With siblings wanting different things, you can find yourself always disappointing someone. In general, you want to be the decision maker, considering activities that they will enjoy.
  • “Sweetheart, You Won’t Get Everything You Want Today.” Before leaving, make this statement, but only once. “Just remember: We will be doing many things today. Some you will like and some you may not like so much. You won’t get everything you want. But I hope you focus on enjoying the day.
  • Mom…Dad: Ignore the Small Stuff. Hopefully, you have this mastered as a habit. IF you don’t, then the day trips could be utterly miserable. It is essential that you learn to teach the kids that not every word uttered is worthy of your attention. Thus, when they whine, bicker and complain a bit…just ignore this and keep moving forward.
  • The Sanity Rule: We Only Play In Peace. The way to make certain your day trips go smoothly is to have a simple rule. “We only play in peace.” This means that you want to encourage cooperation and fun. And…you want the kids to know that they will be able to enjoy the day if they remain civil, cooperative and respectful. While you will ignore the small stuff, any disruptive complaining, whining, fighting, arguing, or difficult behavior will result in an immediate timeout. That’s right! Regardless of where you’re at, or what the circumstances are, simply walk the kids to a quiet area away from all the “good stuff.” This may mean you walk ALL THE WAY back to the car and sit with them until they are completely calm and quiet. You then take a five minute time-out, in silence, and return to the outing. (Again…repeat the time-out as needed…although you won’t have to do this often.)
  • Mom… Dad…Do Not Negotiate or Plead. Use few words. Explain the rules up front. Please understand: There is no value in repeated warnings or lectures. When it’s time to take action, remember the Day Trip Rule!
  • Only Three Strikes. When dealing with a habitually disruptive, tantruming child, plan many day trips. (This is not to torture you!) Set in place a three-strike rule, where the day trip is abandoned after the third time-out. If two adults are going along, plan to travel in two cars so one can take the child who has ‘struck out’ home to sit in his/her room for the rest of the day. After missing out on three or four days at the pool or park, you will see a change in behavior

Don’t be afraid of action. In the end, your family will benefit from understanding that you are a parent of action and follow-through, rather than a parent who argues, negotiates or pleads for cooperation. Take action, and soon…you will be enjoying every day trip you take.