We work hard for months at a time, looking forward to a bit of calm and peace as we escape for a few days for spring break. Yet, often these peaceful moments are more fantasy than reality. More than once I have worked with families who drove home in the middle of the night from Disney, promising they would never return!
What goes wrong? It’s not poor planning or a lack of resources spent on the vacation. It’s not a lack of readiness to relax and enjoy the family. And it’s not a problem with Disney.
Two Behavior Problems That Ruin the Perfect Spring Vacation
The biggest challenge for many families is the behavior of children while on vacation. Many parents find themselves frustrated, angry and overwhelmed with managing problem behavior. Here are the two main frustrations:
1. Sibling fighting, the first of the “big three” complaints, is the most common parent frustration with vacations. Some siblings will bicker and argue over the smallest thing, seeking the battle and attention it brings. Excruciating!
2. Children complaining is number two on the list. Many children insist on getting their way with every activity. Some quickly become ‘bored’ and relentlessly complain to try to get mom/dad to give in to their wishes. Others are simply never happy, always wanting something else…even after they get their way. To say this is frustrating is a monumental understatement.
Vacation Magic that Brings Harmony to Your Spring Break
It is critical to understand that such frustrations need not be your destiny on any vacation. However, to change this, you must commit to consistently implementing a few, simple strategies. In this approach, you will shift from using words to action. By being parents of action – not words – children learn critical lessons. (Of course, I would strongly prefer that kids get these lessons well before you go off to vacation land.)
In advance, explain the following game plan to your children. Be crystal clear. Tell them the rules can’t be altered or negotiated. Do not hesitate. Set out these terms in advance. Then, don’t remind them repeatedly. After that, let the consequence do the teaching.
Travel Secret No. 1: “We Only Travel in Peace”
Explain the following before departure: “Remember all the times we argue and fight with you when Mom or Dad is driving the car? Maybe we are going to grandma’s house. Maybe we are off to soccer. Maybe we are going to dinner and you are fighting over the restaurant choice and throwing a fit. Or maybe we are considering where to spend our day while on vacation.
“Well, that isn’t going to happen anymore. From now on, regardless of where we are or what where we are headed, the car does not move when we are distracted by your behavior. Instead, we pull over and stop. No electronics. Nothing. We will not move until there is five minutes of completed quiet from everyone.”
Mom…Dad…Please get the power of this. Your kids are not used to such boredom. They are always moving or entertained. So, this technique is quite powerful. But you must be clear that the first time you do it (depending upon how defiant your child), you could sit there for a QUITE a while.
You must now honor your words. The tantrum in the back seat is ignored. You patiently wait till all is quiet, and then set your timer for five minutes. It’s amazing how quickly kids will learn from this approach.
Here’s your cheat: Start this today! If you can get one or two of these miserable moments out of the way, you are home free BEFORE vacation begins.
Travel Secret No. 2: Always let your actions teach more than your words.
You can spend $400 for tickets, and two of the kids are complaining before you get through the entrance gates. Solution: 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 for a time out. Be willing to leave any activity, no matter how enjoyable or how expensive (and remember…usually you can return after a brief time-out). Ignore the small stuff, but when the behavior is stealing the joy from you and others…take action! This means you walk out – and usually you come back.
Again, don’t talk about doing it. Remember, you’ve set this out upfront, before things get rolling. Make sure the kids understand the limits you are going to enforce. 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.
So, keep it simple. Travel, eat and enjoy only when all are at peace. Be willing to ignore the small stuff, but when your peace and joy are compromised from complaints, bickering and whining…walk out for a time-out. This will get the job done quickly.