For many of you, you will soon be taking a needed break from the winter weather. For others, it might just be an adventure out to enjoy the snow. Either way, you may find yourself dealing with the child struggles during the travels…or after your arrival.
It’s more than enough to pack the luggage, remember every item, and make sure all the details are handled. Who really has time to think about the mistakes that can make vacations absolutely miserable?
Yet, for many of you, there will be bickering, complaining and annoying behavior that severely compromises your holiday fun. On more than one occasion, I have had parents report that they drove home early or left Disney because the vacation was going so poorly. In every situation I have encountered, there were a few simple mistakes that were the cause of such misery.
And…the bad news is that it is tough to recover from these critical mistakes if you’re in the middle of a vacation. But the good news is that you can make some adjustments before you go on vacation, to ensure a joyful and pleasant family experience.
Mistake #1: You Do Too Much Work to Make Them Happy!
This might sound a bit odd, but it’s a common mistake. We all want to be supportive of our children’s happiness. This is a given. And we all want a wonderful vacation experience for everyone!
However, this mistake occurs whenever you feel yourself working harder for their happiness—than they are! How do you know when this is happening? Here’s the first pointer: you discover that you have set up a wonderful situation, where the circumstances would allow most children to find happiness or satisfaction. Yet, your child is still complaining or demanding more in order to be happy.
I was in Mexico a while back. I recall watching some children playing with their dad in the pool for a good hour or so. He went to sit with their mom, and rest a bit. As soon as he sat down, his son said to his dad, “I’m hot. I want to go back to the room.” Dad says, “I just sat down. Please play a bit more, and we will go to the room in a while.” His son yells at his dad, “I’m bored. I need something to do.” Mom then gets up, jumps in the pool and starts tossing ball with their son…who then complains that she wasn’t as much fun as dad. There is more to the story, but these events capture this concept nicely. Everything was present for this boy to seek out his own happiness, but yet…who worked harder for that happiness?
Also, you can almost always trust your gut on this. If you find yourself chasing after your child’s happiness, then you typically have a deep discomfort in your gut. Trust this…if you feel it.
When your children are experiencing moments of boredom, or moments when things didn’t work out exactly the way they want, you’ll find that it is a disservice to continually “rescue” them from that moment. You would like for them to be happy, given all that they have…but sometimes they can’t seem to find it.
So instead of saving them, redirecting them, or always rushing to solve their unhappiness, consider just allowing them to have a moment of whining or complaining or boredom. Allow them to be unhappy with the fact that their friends can’t come along, or that their phone won’t text, or that they have to sit through their sister’s favorite ride at the park. Then, perhaps they can begin to discover how to find happiness in their great life!
Mistake # 2: Believing that abandoning structure and routine during vacation will equal a more pleasant experience.
This simply is not true. Your kids are used to structure and routine, and the basics need to remain in place. We all (actually) thrive on structure, but this is particularly true for children.
So here’s what I suggest you consider: In advance, set the basic guidelines for the travel schedule, including a consistent, basic routine for each day. Schedule when you’ll get up and have breakfast, and roughly when you’ll leave to go to whatever activities. Try to have the activities planned out in advance, while leaving some room for error.
The goal is not rigidity; the goal is predictability. Please note that!
When your children know what will be happening next, there is a sense of security and reassurance that calms and organizes their thinking and their behavior.
Then do your best to stick to your planned schedule. While you can leave some room for flexibility, make sure that it’s not an accommodation in response to a whining or complaining child. You can be open to input, and some flexibility, but make sure it does not flow from your intolerance of a whining or complaining child or a pattern or you wanting to save them from their moment of misery!
Mistake # 3: Getting weak on consequences and long on negotiation.
When on vacation or embarking on a family outing, we all want a pleasant and enjoyable experience. As such, we can often get weak on our follow-through. Your kids will learn to honor the limits that you set on their behavior-not by the lectures and discussions that you offer them-but by the consequences that come as a result of their failure to honor that limit.
Let’s imagine that you’re traveling in the car and the boys are bickering in the back seat. You can remind them. You can threaten them. You can yell at them. And you just notice that it keeps getting worse and worse as the trip goes on.
What’s needed is a clear consequence….not another lecture or discussion. Let the boys know that whenever they start bickering or yelling, you’ll just pull the car over and sit there until there’s five minutes of silence. If you’re clear about where the limit is at, and what the consequence is for their hitting, bickering or yelling or screaming in the car, you’ll find they quickly learn to honor that limit. The same approach can be used wherever you travel.
This is an amazingly simple strategy that works every time!
So to enjoy your family vacation, make sure that you don’t try to rescue your kids every time that they have a moment of unhappiness or disappointment. Establish a structure in advance, and stick to it. Finally, be firm on your limits, and teach those limits with consequences. Don’t get into negotiations, or you’ll just find yourself negotiating more and more unhappiness on your vacation.