Top Five Tips for Making the Most of Vacation Time with Your Family

23-Apr-2008 8:00 AM EDT

Menninger Clinic

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Newswise — Top five:Tips for making the most of vacation time with your family

Summer is almost here; time to plan your much-deserved time off with your family without intrusions.

"Going on vacation is a time to get away and relax, not stress out about," says Edythe Harvey, MD, a psychiatrist with the Menninger Hope Program and mother of three. "So start making plans now to leave work at work and focus on the most important people—your family."

Dr. Harvey offers the following suggestions to alleviate stress during your vacation, make the most of your time together and enjoy each other's company:

Try something different. Vacationing when kids are out of school is certainly a convenient time but can be the most expensive time to go on vacation, as well as the most crowded at popular destinations, adding the unwanted tension you're trying to leave behind. Consider roads less traveled, especially if you've already been to Disney, for example. "And by roads, I mean think literally. Get in the car instead of on the plane for your next trip, but only if that is something you know your family will enjoy. You know your family and whether a car journey will help you achieve your goal of relaxing or not. Discuss options together and come up with something everyone has agreed they think they will enjoy."

Do your homework. Having to plan can be one of the most difficult things about vacations, but planning in advance helps you not to worry. Making plans ahead of time, at least a month in advance, and researching what to expect upon arrival will help save headaches when you arrive. Involve your family in the planning, thinking through what's going to happen when you get there. If you are going to a theme park, eating lunch at an off time in order to hit the rides when there is less of a line will help keep younger children from being upset. Or, don't put too much on the agenda in one day. Plan a couple of outings and see how it goes. You can always tack on more stuff if you have time.

Leave work at home. This is "your time" to relax, make memories and have a good time. This means turning off your cell phones. If you are all together, you don't need a cell phone. As a society we have moved so much toward everything being so fast and efficient, it makes us struggle with having to be together. Arrange coverage at work so you can focus on doing the things you set out to do together, instead of checking phone messages and e-mails. Before you know it, you'll forget about the e-mails that can wait anyway, and you'll wake up every morning thinking about the day ahead, not the e-mails.

Plan for anxiety. Everything isn't going to be perfect all of the time, but being of the same mindset can help everyone get through the anxious times. If there has been a change in plans, communicate this with your family as soon as possible. Your communication won't prevent them from having feelings, and even though you may be scared of their reaction, explaining what's going to happen and giving them time to process a change in plans is the best thing. The younger your children are, the more time they need.

Make time to bond. "Bonding with your family is enormous," says Dr Harvey. Anything you can do to reduce stress will help the family bond. For small children, being together all of the time is important. With older children, it is most likely beneficial not to be together all of the time, but to plan for meals and certain activities together. Consider letting your teen bring a friend along. They can do things by themselves and have a great bonding experience with their friend. Try adventure and learning for a good bonding experience. If you are doing something new, you can bond around doing something new for the first time; something you can share together for years to come.

Be mindful of how your reactions affect your children—it's good for kids to see how parents respond to new things. It's okay to be anxious. How you deal with situations is helpful for your kids' learning. It affects their view of the world. "This reminds me of an experience on a vacation with my family in Madrid, Spain," Dr Harvey recalled. "My son left his sweater in the airport in Madrid and after we traveled to a different country and returned to Madrid a few days later, he was determined to check on his sweater. My husband and I just knew the sweater wouldn't be there, but we didn't let our concern show. Sure enough, someone had noticed it and turned it in to lost and found. My son was just thrilled and that was his view of how the world works. It was great for us as parents to see that."

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