Tips for Vacationing With KidsJun 29, 2023
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Traveling with kids can feel more like a business trip than a vacation sometimes. You get excited for a break and a change of scenery, but you’re not necessarily off duty when it comes to parenting. In this episode, I’m sharing why vacation feels like so much work sometimes and my top 5 tips for vacationing with kids.
Why Is It So Hard?
Often, when we plan a trip, we think of it in its most idyllic way. We anticipate that it will be lovely and fun and relaxing. We can’t wait for the adventure, the squeals of fun and laughter.
Then, reality hits. You’re taking your actual children with you on this trip (not some imaginary unicorn children you made up in your mind).
Maybe things fall apart pretty quickly, you start to feel discouraged and think things like, “This always happens,” or “They’re going to ruin our vacation.”
Your expectation of how things “should” go is different from the everyday, but the behavior struggles and emotional dysregulation are the same.
When you go on a trip, you’re also taking your kid out of their normal rhythm and routine, so even if it’s really fun the situation will likely cause some stress for them.
Excitement can cause dysregulation. Basically, when our emotions go faster than our nervous system can handle, we get thrown off balance.
Add long lines, bad weather, sitting for long periods of time, sleeping in new places. possible time zone changes and all sorts of new food to the mix, and you’re facing quite a few challenges.
Big Feeling Cycles
Kids cry a lot and have a lot of big feeling cycles, whether you’re at home or on a trip. Their emotions are not on vacation.
The location or the circumstance isn't what triggers their behavior. It's actually their thoughts and feelings that trigger their behavior.
Even in what seems like a fun situation, kids can have thoughts that trigger feelings like disappointment, frustration or jealousy, so they end up complaining, pouting or shoving their sibling.
When behaviors come up, many parents are quick to make threats, criticize or overparent in an attempt to get the vacation back on track. But while these approaches might work in the short term, they’re not long-term solutions and may suck even more of the fun out of your vacation.
Tips for Vacationing With Kids
The tips I’m sharing today are meant to get you out of the command-threat model and help you know how to handle behaviors and situations that come up.
Decide what you want to think and feel on your vacation. We often spend a lot of time planning specific activities but don’t take the time to think about what feelings we are chasing.
Why are you going on this trip? How do you want to feel while you are there? What memories do you want to capture?
Your memories will reflect the way you felt while you were on vacation. You might look back at the pictures and look so happy, but you won't remember feeling happy because you actually weren't.
Here are a few of my favorite thoughts you can borrow to shift your feelings:
- Wow. They’re really immature (and they’re supposed to be).
- They’re really struggling right now.
- This is a temporary moment.
- My kid’s just having some big feelings.
- I really love my children.
Pause When You’re Mad
When you find yourself activated, overwhelmed, angry or frustrated or in any other negative emotion that you don't wanna be feeling on your vacation, I invite you to pause and reset.
You want to reset both the stress response in your body and the thoughts in your mind.
Move your body to get out some of the stress juice. Take a deep breath, shake your hands, jump up and down, put some lip balm on, stand up or get a drink of water. You can also try putting your hand over your heart as a form of compassion and comfort for yourself.
To reset my mind, I like to do a mini thought dump. Recognize and validate the emotion you are feeling and the thoughts you have.
Then think about how you DO want to feel. What do you need to think in order to feel that way? This is the mindset shift.
Be a Flexible Leader
Your leadership is even more important for your family when you’re traveling than when you’re at home.
As the leader, I want you to feel entitled to change your mind, to decide that maybe something isn't going well and to switch gears.
It's okay if something doesn't go as planned. It's okay to skip a planned activity or leave early because if you keep your kids well rested, well fed and give them enough big body movement, they're gonna have more ability to regulate themselves at the next adventure or activity.
Your kid's behavior will improve when you can do this with calm confidence. The kids will feel that the grown-ups around them are in charge and are taking care of things, and this helps them to feel safe. Step into that leadership energy.
Connect Before You Correct
What most parents tend to do when they see misbehavior is to try to fix it, change it, stop it, solve it.
But misbehavior happens when your kids have some big feelings that they don’t know what to do with. The first step is to look at what emotion might be driving the behavior and address that emotional need.
Make a guess as to what might be going on emotionally. Name the emotion and ask if that’s how they are feeling. Allow them to feel however they are feeling without trying to logic them out of it.
Then, address the behavior with a limit. “Your feelings make sense. You can’t hit. You’re welcome to keep eating your ice cream as long as you don’t hit.”
Be Ok With Giving Consequences On Vacation
Consequences come as a result of your child’s decision. This is following through on the limit you set.
For example, you set a limit that you will go down to the pool as long as everyone has their sunblock on in ten minutes. If one of your kids doesn’t have sunscreen on when the timer goes off, they will stay in the room with your partner.
If they choose to pivot their behavior and put on sunblock, you can offer to help them or let them do it themselves.
Don't add lectures, criticisms, comparisons, bribes, yelling, hurting your kids, rejection or anything else. Losing the swim time or the ice cream or whatever is all that's needed to create the learning moment.
Traveling with kids does not have to be an endless stream of conflict and grumpy feelings. And conflict and grumpiness are normal. You and your kids are still humans, even when you’re on vacation, and you’ll continue to have a range of emotions.
Your kids are allowed to feel happy, grumpy, annoyed, delighted, surprised and exhausted. If you can be calm and confident when their big feelings come up, your children will also be calmer.
- Why vacationing with kids doesn’t really feel like a vacation for you (the parent)
- What most parents do first when behaviors come up on vacation (and what to do instead)
- Thoughts you can borrow to shift to towards the feelings that you want
- Examples of limits and consequences on vacation
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