Every time we go on a family vacation it ends up being miserable. My children act out and fight with each other. I end up feeling like the vacation was more work than it was fun. How can I make this go better in the future?
Erin Jacklin, Psy.D., licensed clinical psychologist and executive director of The Catalyst Center, shares the following tips for parents:
When you go on vacation you are “off duty” from your responsibilities and focused on self-care. When your children are traveling with you, you are not “off duty.” In fact, unless you have childcare at your destination, you are probably working all day, every day.
Traveling with children is not a vacation, it is a trip.
Trips can be fun, but they are not the same as vacations. When you approach family travel as a trip rather than a vacation you are less likely to feel resentful. A trip can be hard work, and that’s OK. The trick is to match the difficulty level of the trip to your children’s ability levels. Given that your children have struggled on past trips, start by bringing the difficulty level down significantly. Once your family trips are consistently going well, you can start to slowly increase the challenges.
Here are some ways to bring down the difficulty level for family trips:
- Include your children in the planning and decision-making process as much as possible, considering their age and preferences. Get them invested in a positive experience.
- Begin talking about the trip and setting expectations early (from the planning stages of the trip), helping them understand what to expect and what will be expected of them.
- Limit travel time and time zone changes.
- Provide comforting routines wherever possible.
- Consider where and when your child will sleep, and help them cope with unfamiliar sleeping arrangements.
- Provide consistent times to eat and bring along familiar healthy foods for picky eaters.
- Provide clear structure and expectations throughout the trip.
- If possible, take turns being “on duty” with your co-parent or another trusted adult to give each of you some breaks.
- Provide breaks for each child, give them a way to have some space when they are struggling with their sibling.
Family travel can offer a wonderful opportunity to grow and learn. Try out these ideas for your next family trip and plan an adults-only vacation for yourself soon!