3 parenting mistakes that will zap the joy out of your vacation
By Randy Cale, PH.D
What if you could prevent those summertime arguments, struggles and meltdowns that bring chaos and frustration to your family during those cherished vacation weeks?
Good news: you can! But you have to take action now. The bad news is that it is tough to recover from these critical mistakes if you’re in the middle of a vacation. Rest assured that you can easily make some adjustments before you go on vacation to ensure a joyful and pleasant family experience. Below are three joy-robbing mistakes and tips on how to preserve your peaceful vacation.
Mistake number 1: Working too hard for your children’s happiness
This might sound a bit unusual, but it’s a common mistake. We all want to be supportive of our children’s happiness. However, this mistake occurs whenever you feel yourself working harder than your children are at their happiness. You can determine this very simply by turning to your heart and noticing when you feel yourself doing more and more to try to create happy moments; yet, your children seem to become more and more easily disappointed and upset. In fact, you may notice that they put little effort into their own happiness as you work harder. If this is where you’re at, you’re headed down a path that will ultimately fail them and you, and make both summer and vacation a possible nightmare.
When your children are experiencing moments of boredom or when things don’t work out exactly the way they want, it is a disservice to continually “rescue” them from that moment. Instead, allow them to have a moment of whining or complaining. Let them be unhappy with the fact that their friends can’t come over or that their favorite ride at the park is closed or that you have to leave early because of a sibling’s sunburn.
If you engage the complaints, you validate them. So minimize this, and let your children work their way through any repeated patterns of whining or unhappy moments this summer. You will quickly see them become better at finding their own peace and cope better with disappointments.
Mistake number 2: Believing that less structure and routine during vacation will equal a more pleasant experience.
This simply isn’t true—your kids are used to structure and routine. While they may complain or resist it at times, the research overwhelmingly supports the value of continued structure and routine.
Consider setting basic guidelines for the summer schedule, including times to rise and eat breakfast and approximate times for certain activities. Try to have the activities roughly planned out in advance, while leaving some room for error. The goal is not rigidity; the goal is predictability. When your children know what will be happening next, there is a sense of security and reassurance that calms and organizes their thinking and their behavior.
Overall, stick to your planned schedule. While you can leave some room for flexibility, make sure that it’s not an accommodation in response to a whining or complaining child. You can be open to input, and some flexibility, but make sure it does not flow from your intolerance of a whining or complaining child.
Mistake Number 3: Getting weak on consequences and long on negotiation.
When on vacation or embarking on a family outing, we all want a pleasant and enjoyable experience. As such, we can often get weak on our follow-through. Your kids will learn to honor the limits that you set on their behavior—not by the lectures and discussions that you offer them—but by the consequences that come as a result of their failure to honor that limit.
Let’s imagine that you’re traveling in the car and the boys are bickering in the back seat. You can remind them, threaten them or yell at them. And you just notice that it keeps getting worse and worse as the trip goes on.
What’s needed is a clear consequence, not another lecture or discussion. Let the boys know that whenever they start bickering or yelling, you’ll just pull the car over and sit there until there’s five minutes of silence. If you’re clear about where the limit is at, and what the consequence is for their bad behavior, you’ll find they quickly learn to honor that limit. The same approach can be used wherever you travel.
This amazingly simple strategy works every time!
Dr. Randy Cale, a Clifton Park based parenting expert, author, speaker and licensed psychologist, offers practical guidance for a host of parenting concerns. Dr. Cale’s new website, www.TerrificParenting.com offers valuable free parenting information and an e-mail newsletter.