Vacationing with children can be a challenge for many families. The stress of an unfamiliar place, the unpredictability of travel and the overall feelings of newness can make for complicated, stressful situations that impact both parents and their children. Dr. Lisa Gordon, PhD is available to offer tips and advice to parents as they embark on spring break vacations with their kids.
Dr. Gordon, a licensed clinical psychologist at The Family Institute at Northwestern University, states that parents’ conceptualizations of vacations often differ from those of their children. “Parents crave unpredictability and newness,” says Dr. Gordon. “Their children, however, do not.” Where as adults look at vacations as breaks and revel in their relaxation and newness, children resist that newness and get anxious without activities. Sleeping in a different bed, seeing new television shows and/or schedules, and tasting unfamiliar food can cause stress and anxiety in children, causing them to act out. As a result, sometimes parents face disappointment, and may even think their kids are spoiled or ungrateful.
Vacations also stress parents out, but for very different reasons. Parents stress about money, about details, about weather and about if everyone is having a good time. “Anytime parents are stressed, kids are stressed,” says Dr. Gordon. “And anytime a parent is distracted because of stress, that tends to be when the child demands attention.” This need for attention can make the situation even more stressful for the parent, who in turn makes the child more anxious.
Dr. Gordon provides the following tips for parents as they vacation with their children:
1. Combine the Old with the New: Bring along a piece of home by including some of your kids’ favorite snacks, their blanket, or a pillow from their bed. These reminders of home may help ease some of your children’s anxiety as they spend time in a new place.
2. Practice Makes Perfect: Before you leave for a vacation, have your children practice sleeping in a new bed in your house. Having your child sleep in a somewhat unfamiliar space like a sibling’s bedroom may help prepare them for the newness to come.
3. Don’t Expect Perfection: Vacations should be about spending time together, not meeting impossible standards of perfection. Creating lasting memories often happens in the smallest of moments on a vacation — don’t miss them trying to make things perfect.
4. Do Expect the Unexpected: Planning and budgeting for the unexpected can alleviate stress for parents, and in turn, entire families. Be sure to plan for rainy days and budget for extra room service costs . It will lower your anxiety, and when parents’ anxiety lowers, so does that of their children.
5. Structure Your Relaxation: Kids respond well to structure and predictability — two things often lacking in a vacation. While newness is an integral part of vacation, do try to anchor the days with some predictability: keep a similar bed time and/or meal times, or have breakfast every morning in the same spot. Doing so will help ease your children’s stress, and in turn, yours.
To talk to Dr. Gordon about how to manage stress while travelling with children and families, contact Colleen O’Connor at firstname.lastname@example.org or 312-609-5300 ext. 485.
ABOUT THE FAMILY INSTITUTE AT NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY – For 45 years, The Family Institute at Northwestern University (www.family-institute.org) has been committed to strengthening and healing families from all walks of life through clinical service, education and research. An affiliate of Northwestern University, The Family Institute is a unique, innovative not-for-profit organization, governed by its own independent Board of Directors and responsible for its own funding. The Institute offers a wide range of high quality mental health counseling through our staff practice and our sliding-fee scale Bette D. Harris Family and Child Clinic, where we are committed to serving at-risk, under-resourced communities. The Family Institute also operates two nationally-renowned graduate programs in marriage and family therapy and counseling psychology in affiliation with Northwestern University, and conducts cutting edge research projects that lead to a better understanding and treatment of mental health issues.