Vacationing with children can be a nightmare – or it can be a joy. The trip to the beach can be loaded with fun, and just as quickly it can turn to a battleground where no one is getting along. Sometimes, we can even plan the trip of a lifetime, only to discover that we are ready to go home before we are halfway done.

The Big Three: Why Vacations Can Turn to Disaster!

  1. Complaints and Whining: Children often go on vacation expecting everything to go their way. This doesn’t happen, and often they complain. In fact, many parents find kids complaining more about vacation than at home because their expectations of ongoing, incessant fun and enjoyment can rarely be met. This is particularly the case when activities are balanced with different sibling interests. One child is happy when the other is unhappy.
  2. Sibling fighting: This is one of the most common sources of vacation frustration. Siblings who struggle getting along at home often have breaks from one another, and yet this may not be the case on vacations. Thus, bickering and fighting can escalate, and close-quarters often means that the frequency rates climb with each passing day.
  3. Lack of Appreciation: For many families, much in invested the big vacation. Not only time and financial resources, but mom and dad may be looking forward to a much needed ‘break.’ With the stress leading up to the vacation, and the sacrifices made, many of us expect just a bit of appreciation for those repeated meals out, the tickets and the constant entertainment. When we get complaints instead, we can become deeply disappointed with the lack of appreciation.
  4. No Behavior Plan: For many families, they struggle to manage behavior within the context of a regular daily structure. However, with little of the same structure in place, behavioral problems often escalate, and parents do not have a clear plan for dealing with this. Increasing behavioral issues can quickly suck away all the joy from a great day.

What’s the Summertime Solution for that Great Vacation?

No magic suddenly shows up on vacation when there are regular problems at home every day with behaviors. However, if the vacation is sitting right in front of you, these solutions will save the day. However, please realize that these are essentials to also bring into everyday life, so more ease and joy can abound at home.

Vacation Rules: Explain to your children, “There will be new rules this year for vacation. Listen carefully, as there will be no negotiation of these on vacation.” Then explain the three main rules.

Travel Rule No. 1: Only Travel in Peace.

Make this commitment to your children: “We will only keep moving forward if we travel in peace. Thus, the car will move if there are calm and respectful interactions. If we get distracted by your conflicts and fighting, it is really unsafe to drive or continue and the car will stop.”

That’s right. You just pull over. Don’t remind the kids to be quiet or to calm down. Instead, pull over as soon as possible. Turn on some classical music and wait. Wait until all is quiet, and then start a five-minute timer. Sit and wait until there are five minutes of peace. In other words, the timer only starts when there is silence and is reset to five minutes anytime there is noise. The car will only begin moving again after five minutes of calm.

Will this be painful the first time? Yes. Remarkably so. But the lessons learned will be invaluable for the rest of your vacation.

Travel Rule No. 2: Always let your actions teach more than your words.

You can spend $400 for tickets for that amusement park, and two of the kids are complaining before you get through the entrance gates. At this point, most of us use our words to battle against their words. The tone can escalate quickly, and it can get ugly quickly. Bad idea.

Solution: Lead with action, and not your words.

Here’s how that translates to real-life: Regardless of where you are, let the kids know you are willing to leave and go to the car or bus or hotel, and sit there for a time out. Use the same five-minute rule, where there will be five minutes of silence before returning to the activity.

Be willing to leave any activity, no matter how enjoyable or how expensive. Extreme behavior warrants immediate action. This means you walk out – and usually, you come back shortly. But sitting on that bench or baking in the car usually teaches a powerful lesson.

Again, don’t talk about doing it if you are not going to do it. Treat your kids as if they are brilliant, and they will quickly learn from your actions. Remember, you play fair. You lay all this out in advance, so your kids will know why you are doing what you are doing.

Do this once – and it’s likely you won’t have to, again. If two kids are behaving well, and one is out of control, one parent can walk out with the difficult child.

Don’t discuss “inappropriate behavior.” Simply leave the activity and go sit in the car for a time-out. If too far, find that bench or hilltop to sit it out for the five minutes of silence.

If you are at the pool, and it’s out of control, you take the kids to the room for the time out. If one child hates Sea World, see how much he complains after sitting in the car for 30 minutes with no one listening to him. Suddenly, Sea World will seem much more appealing.

It may be boring for you, but it’s even worse for your child. The closer you can connect a poor choice with a clear consequence, the more effectively your action will teach. Repeated requests for cooperation, prodding, or encouragement on your part only make things worse.

Become that parent who uses behavior (your setting of the consequence) to effectively teach better behavior. This is the underground secret to building responsible children who honor limits and do so joyfully.

Travel Rule No. 3: Let gratitude pull your interest, while complaints are ignored.

Before the day begins, share the agenda with the children. Take their wishes into account as best you can, but present them with a clear game plan. They will have lots of child-focused time. Build in some adult time, if desired. Prepare them as best you can, but make sure it’s clear that not everyone gets everything they desire. It just won’t happen that way.

Don’t make changes based on whining and complaining – only on reasonable input offered in advance. Ignore all complaints. Ignore whining. Ignore repeated questioning. Ignore ugly comments. Ignore nasty verbal response as if it’s just not worthy of your attention. Give no energy to this pattern of negatively focused expression.

When the children begin to behave more positively, then re-engage them. Don’t offer discussion or reprimands like “I’ve heard enough. Can’t you be quiet and enjoy this?” or “Do you know how much money this costs? Be grateful!” or “What’s wrong with you? Nothing seems good enough!” or “Don’t you know how hard it is for us to get time off from work for this?” Statements like these typically make things worse, not better. (And if you notice, it’s now YOU who is the complainer as you complain about your child’s habits!)

Instead, if you want your kids to show appreciation and gratitude, then you must show appreciation. You must be a leader for your kids, showing them how to be grateful when others may not be. Talk about the fun you’re having. Enjoy the taste and look of good food, and perhaps be grateful for not having to cook. In other words, be what you want your children to be. Simply put, mirror back to them how you wish them to act.

Finally, become obsessed with smiling and acknowledging even the slightest of positive moments. Not praising your children…but simply smiling or nodding in those moments. This is the path of the wise, and happy vacationer! Have fun this summer.