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  • Writer's pictureJesse Thornton

Family Counseling: Summer Vacations

Updated: Sep 16, 2021

While vacations should be a time for us to relax and connect with our families, we often come home feeling just as worn out as when we left. These trips create wonderful memories for a lifetime, but they are often also filled with stress. Whether you have young children coming with you or teens, family counseling offers good ways to reduce stress on your next vacation:

It’s not one person’s job to pack and prepare

If you are the person who typically is in charge of packing for the family, talk to your partner about sharing these duties. Assign chores to help prepare for the trip. The less stressed you are before the trip, the better you’ll be able to manage stress during the trip. Also, having two people keeping track of the various items needed for a family trip will create a checks-and-balances system, making it less likely important items will be forgotten.

Make checklists

You do not want to realize you forgot something your child needs to keep occupied in the airport, plane, or car when it is too late. This includes tablets, headphones, and books. Gather these items the day before and make sure that everything is plugged in to charge the night before. Pack chargers in a zip-lock bag and don’t forget car adapters. Knowing that you have everything you need will put your mind at ease and make it easier to relax.

Pack snacks!

Bring fruit, nuts, cereal, or other healthy items. Avoid snacks with lots of sugar. Your children will likely be indulging in treats while on vacation, so packing nutritious snacks will help ensure they are still getting good foods that give energy. With too much sugar, you will definitely see a spike in emotional crashing. Bring snacks and water when you head out for the day. This will save money and ensure that you always have something on hand for when needed.

Prepare for your travel rout ahead of time

If you are flying, you will need to plan for how you’re getting to the airport. Do you know where long-term parking is (and how long it takes to get from their to the airport entrance), what traffic will be and how long your security line wait may be? Make one person be in charge of tickets, passports, and identification for airport travel. This keeps everything together and organized. Know the length of your layover and get to your gate before searching for food or bathrooms. If driving, update your GPS the day before travelling so it is up-to-date on routes and construction. When traveling through cities, consider if this will be during rush hour and make a bathroom stop before you get stuck on the highway.

Limit your activity schedule

Think about what you want to do and what is reasonable for the vacation. Worrying about sticking to a schedule to fit everything in may keep you from enjoying the moment. Also consider the activity level of family members. Try a small activity in the morning and another in the afternoon or just one larger activity for the day. Hot weather and exposure to the sun can wear people out, so keep this in mind. Someone might be too tired to do everything, so see how people feel around noon. This could be a good time to split up.

Maintain your home routine

Kids are used to a routine, and their bodies are prepared for that schedule. Just because you are on vacation does not mean that their body isn’t going to crave that mid-morning snack, nap, nighttime reading, or bedtime. It is okay to get off your normal schedule a little, but try and stay consistent. Avoid making too many changes to their routine in a single day. This will help your children stay energized for the day and minimize unwanted behaviors.

Put the camera down

Being present during your vacation is going to be the most enjoyable and relaxing thing you can do.  This is an important aspect of mindfulness. Feeling like you need to photograph everything will become stressful. Additionally, recent research suggests excessive picture taking can actually decrease our ability to remember events. Instead of recording everything, take time before bed to recount the day with your children. This will solidify the memories you made and give everyone the chance to share their favorite part of the day.

Vacations mean close quarters for days at a time. Between flights, car rides, and hotel rooms, this time together can be stressful. Headphones are a great way of helping to provide personal space when in closed quarters. If it seems like someone needs space, this might be a good time to pursue individual interests (such as shopping vs. a park). Do not be afraid to split up. It is important to balance time together with allowing each other space. Kids will enjoy getting to tell the other parent/sibling about their adventure!

Family vacations are the optimal time for family bonding.  Bring family counseling ideas with you to make the most of it. Your vacation will likely have snags. Maybe the weather is not what you expected, flight delays, traffic, or someone gets sick. The best thing to do is be prepared to roll with it. Kids will pick up on your mood and react to it. If you can maintain a calm, happy disposition, they will follow your lead. Keep smiling and enjoy the time with your family.

For more ideas to bolster your family try these articles: Family Time During the Week, Three Parenting Styles

About the Author: Jay Pizzolato, B.A. is a Psychology Doctoral student at Spalding University emphasizing in family counseling psychology. He previously studied psychology and early childhood education at Skidmore College. Originally from Cape Cod, Jay has a background in behavioral management. He worked for seven years in an alternative education school with severe behavioral/emotional needs as a classroom counselor and teacher. Jay currently lives in Louisville, Kentucky with his wife and 4-year-old daughter.

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