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Top 10 Tools for Surviving Family Vacations

by Don R. MacMannis, Ph.D
Now that schoolís out and everyone wants to play, Americans are going on vacation in unprecedented numbers. Having a flashlight and flares for a car trip is a great idea. So is a travel bag of games and CDs.

But what about a repair kit for family feelings? Or a road map to harmony? Even a dream vacation in an idyllic setting can become a nightmare if the kids are at each otherís throats. Here are some practical parenting tools to help bring out the best in everybody:

Remember the big picture. A family vacation can be a perfect opportunity to create fun and lasting memories. Consider making learning, loving and living in the moment your highest priority, rather than getting to a particular destination.

Share appreciations and praise. Families do best when everybody (including adults) feels appreciated. Notice the good things and praise your kids, aiming for at least a 5:1 ratio of positive to negative statements.

Donít relax the rules and routines too much. Younger children canít ďsleep in,Ē so later or irregular bedtimes can create thrive when parents provide lots of love and warmth, but also firmness and structure.

Give lots of time to blow off steam. Being away can be exciting but also stressful. Join in and help your children express themselves physically and emotionally through exercise and activities.

Provide practice at making decisions. If done in moderation, handing over some decisions to the kids is a terrific way for them to learn planning and thinking skills. Going somewhere new puts everybody on an exciting, equal footing.

Have family meetings. This is an ideal way to air feelings, make group decisions and help everyone feel respected for their preferences. Donít forget that youíre all in the same boat. When tensions flare, itís time to attend. If siblings arenít getting along, a good ďrepair kitĒ is to have them work things out by sitting face to face, listening to and acknowledging each otherís feelings.

Honor individual differences. Travel often highlights some differences between family members: preferences around food, activities, how much time to be active vs. relaxing, etc. Itís a fabulous time to learn to compromise and take turns leading and following. Some kids get homesick and may act younger and need more loving attention.

Be prepared for idle times. In addition to the travel bag of games and CDs, have some games to use when youíre waiting or standing on lines (e.g., guessing which hand a coin is in). Itís also fun to let the kids safely scout out new places and come back to give you a report.

Allow some down time. Families are often not accustomed to being together all the time. Allow some ebbs and flows of being together and apart, and of quiet and more active times.

Listen to your own needs. Create time to be apart from the children and nurture yourself and your adult relationships. Itís a win-win situation. One of the greatest gifts you can offer your children is your own sense of happiness and well-being.
Don R. MacMannis, Ph.D. has been a psychologist specializing in the treatment of children and families for the past thirty years. He is also music director and a songwriter for the hit PBS series, Jay Jay the Jet Plane. His CD/book, A Pocket of Tunes: Songs and Activities for Social and Emotional Learning, won the 2003 Best Childrenís Vacation Product award. He has been interviewed by over forty media contacts, including Time, Inside Edition, Parenting, and AOL on Boosting Social and Emotional Skills, Childrenís Fears about the War, and Guidelines for Parents about Instant Messaging.
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