The thought of traveling with their kids makes many parents shudder. Many will wait until the kids are older, thinking it will be easier for everyone. I’ve had many clients tell me stories about returning home early after nightmarish travel experiences.

I have good news: there are a few fairly easy solutions to making happy vacation memories. Why? Because, believe it or not, you have more leverage on vacations than you often have during more “normal” family time.

Below are a few simple ideas that will quickly resolve most major stressors while traveling with your children. There’s a critical lesson that you and the kids will learn: you are becoming parents of action, not excessive words. That’s one of the hidden keys to parenting success!

First, here are the “big 3” summer vacation complaints:

Sibling fighting and bickering. This is, by far, the biggest complaint among parents. If traveling long distances, the constant fighting can become excruciating.

Complaints. When traveling with two or three plus siblings, it can be difficult to engage in activities that please all ages and interests. Children often end up complaining about activities that they’re not particularly excited about, which can be frustrating for parents since many of these activities are costly endeavors.

More, more, more! I want more! Family vacations are extremely expensive and can be taxing on the family budget, yet children have little appreciation for this. Many parents complain that after giving and giving to their children, they still want more.

Solution 1: Traveling Without Sibling Conflict

Before leaving, explain to the kids that there will be a set of rules in place throughout the vacation. Explain that these rules will not be altered or varied in any way regardless of whether or not they approve. These rules will involve parents making the following commitments:

“We travel peacefully, or we don’t travel at all.”

Let the kids know that the car will be moving as long as there is a civil and reasonable conversation, without bickering and fighting. The moment that the fighting begins, don’t remind them to be quiet or to calm down. Instead, pull over at the next possible moment, and turn on the radio while sitting calmly…waiting.

Allow them to go through whatever fighting and bickering they want to go through until they are bored. Then wait another five minutes through the calm and quiet, and then get back on the road. (I call this the “auto time-out”.)

If in the hotel or at a restaurant, simply let the kids know that the “train” will not be moving until there is peaceful and civil communication between them. If the kids are fighting in the morning, just ignore them and let them continue. If this is relatively mild, it may be better to get them into the car and use the “auto time-out” while in transit to breakfast or the day’s activities.

Be willing to leave any activity! Let your kids know in advance that any extreme behavior results in walking out and not going back. Don’t talk about this a lot; just make the statement upfront, and then follow through.

Once you do this one time, you won’t have to do it again. Simply make sure that you use the consequence and follow through immediately.

If two kids are behaving relatively well, and one child is out of control, then one parent can walk out with the difficult child, without a discussion about the “inappropriate behavior”. Simply leave the activity, and wait until the rest of the family is done.

Again, while this can be tedious for a parent, it is much more so for your son or daughter. It’s imperative to remember that it is the consequence that follows immediately after their behavior that effectively teaches them, not your repeated requests, prodding, or encouragement. This only makes things worse.

NOTE: In situations such as Disney World or another all-day activity, it’s not necessary to walk out. Instead, go to a “time out” area, and allow plenty of time for the difficult child to understand that they are missing fun stuff while their siblings are enjoying it all. If you want to show you are really serious (and I suggest you do), go back to the car and sit there until all is calm. You will only have to do it once, maybe twice. The rest will be smooth sailing!

Solution 2: All Complaints Are Ignored!

Let your kids know that you’ll be ignoring all of their complaints. Go over the agenda for the vacation; you could even write it down so they have a copy, and review it at night.

As loving and caring parents, you will have taken into consideration the wishes of all the children, as well as your desire to have some adult time, perhaps. Let them know what the agenda will be, and that they are free to complain. Reasonable requests will be considered, but changes in the plans won’t be made based upon whining and complaining, and remind them that you won’t be responding to these complaints.

If your son or daughter falls into the habit of complaining, ignore them completely. The moment they begin to talk in more positive ways about other activities or any aspect of their life, begin to reengage with them immediately.

Offer no discussion or reprimand about their complaints. This would include parental comments such as the following:

  • “I’ve heard enough of that. Can’t you just be quiet and enjoy this?”
  • “Do you know how much money this is costing us? You should be grateful that we can go on vacation!”
  • “What’s wrong with you? Nothing seems to be good enough for you, because you always complain about whatever we do!”
  • “You know how hard it is for your dad and me to get off from work to go on these vacations? You really should enjoy this more and stop complaining.”

And the list could go on, with variations of many sorts. Simply forget all of these, as they simply make things worse, rather than better.

Solution 3: Promoting Appreciation For Family Time!

Make certain that you follow through with the above advice. Ignore the complaints.

Throughout the vacation (and the rest of your life) model appreciation and gratitude. During family time in the car, talk about what you notice and appreciate about the drive. Talk about what you are grateful for in your life. When eating a meal, be appreciative and notice what tastes good and wonderful. When participating in an activity, marvel in appreciation for what you are witnessing.

In other words, “BE” what you want your children to be.

If you want them to be appreciative, you model appreciation.

If you want them to be grateful, model gratitude.

If you want them to be kind, model kindness.

But remember to model these attributes when they are NOT complaining bickering, or whining. Notice that leaves a lot of opportunities to model what you want them to be!

A couple of weeks ago, one dad admitted this: “I could be a better dad if they would be better kids!” We all chucked. Yet, the humor hides a truth many of us hold. We believe we can be better, model more love, give more appreciation, and do it all….ONCE our better child shows up.

No. It doesn’t work that way. We all know that… so please get started on this today!

When your children then begin to express appreciation, engage in conversation with them. Talk with them about what they enjoy, or laugh at, or what interests them. Be available when their attention turns to a healthy direction.

While this discussion may seem relatively simple, these principles will transform your vacation experience, if you’ve experienced these kinds of difficulties. The key is action…particularly action immediately tied to problem behavior. Be clear with kids upfront about how you will respond…then DO IT!