You and your children have been looking forward to this family holiday for months. You all want a break. You’ve saved up for it and deserve it. A holiday is just what you all need to get away from the problems of daily life, Or is it?
Many parents and their children find that family holidays can be one of the most stressful times of the year. The word holiday comes from ‘Holy Day’. That can seem inappropriate especially when you feel you’re dealing with a tribe of neo-savages who march exclusively to the drumbeat of terror and extortion. Far from enjoying the experience, you end up desperate to get home.
So where does it all go wrong? Do you want your holiday to be an exercise in superhuman logistical planning, crowd control and anger management? Or a chance to relax and get to know your children as a parent – rather than their taxi driver? What can you do to cut your stress levels so that you can get on and enjoy, not just survive your family holiday?
Enjoy the ‘imperfect’ family holiday
Don’t expect to have the perfect family holiday. The perfect family doesn’t exist. Be realistic about your expectations. Don’t expect your children to be perfect – just because they’re on holiday. All relationships need working at – they don’t just happen. You’re away, but spending so much time together in a confined space is tough for all of you. You have to live with your teenager trashing your apartment. They’re sharing a bedroom and can’t get any privacy.
Tip: Be a fun parent – not a frantic one. Your idyllic holiday home resembles a crime scene within minutes of your arrival, but don’t waste time complaining. It’ll add to your stress. Treat it as a base and invest time instead getting out and about with your family.
Take your sunglasses off and listen with your eyes
This holiday is an opportunity to get to know what makes your children tick. What a great chance for you to catch up on what’s been happening in their lives over the past 12 months! You don’t have to drag them away from their play station, phone or worry about them spending hours surfing the net. You’ve left all that at home.
Tip: The frantic pace of life means that many families rarely sit down and eat together. So when you’re on holiday, make the most of leisurely family mealtimes. Tune into your children and deal calmly with issues that may cause rows – before you have one. On most family holidays, parents do 90% of the talking and 10% of the listening. Turn the tables, take off your sunglasses and listen with your eyes.
Remove your ‘bad parent’ t-shirt
You wake up feeling lucky to be alive, you’re on holiday, sun’s shining and the children are getting on. It’s like a scene from 'The Incredibles',but by the time you’ve ranted and raved and got down by the pool, you’re feeling like Cruella De Vil. Your toddler has already lost his sun hat, your teenager’s complaining that you haven’t packed their favourite costume, you shout and say things you regret. You're left feeling angry and guilty and it’s only 9.30 in the morning. You’re already wearing your ‘bad parent’ T-Shirt.
Tip: Count to 10 and act your age, not theirs. If you shout and stamp your flip flops to get what you want - that’s what your toddler or teenager will do too. They may know what buttons to press, but you’re in control of how you respond. If you’re calm, they’re more likely to be. It’s a challenge – but you can do it.
Don’t take it personally
You’ve told your 3-year old 100 times not to get sand over everything. But they just don’t listen. They’re deliberately disobeying you. You’ve told your teenager not to wander off and to tell you where they’re going – again and again. They just ignore you. Why can’t they do what you tell them – when you tell them?
Tip: When your child is being challenging, look at them and see the person you love – not a horned devil making your life deliberately difficult. This isn’t about you, it’s about them, they’re on holiday exploring a new world and learning to be independent. See the world through their eyes and it will help you to understand and deal with them.
Win the war – by losing the occasional battle
Your 16-year-old is insisting on going clubbing with her ‘new’ friends, your 6-year-old is begging you to stay up later than his usual 7.30pm bedtime. You’re on holiday and there may be certain ‘family rules’ that need to be relaxed a little. Your children still need boundaries – but prepare for those boundaries to be pushed.
Tip: Negotiate, motivate and don’t threaten them. Say, ‘if you can do this for me – I can do this for you’. Get into the habit of saying yes to some things instead of no to everything they ask for.
Put yourself first
Even on holiday, most parents end up running around after their children 24/7. You’re doing everything you can and the children are still complaining that they’re bored. Instead of returning home refreshed, you’re exhausted. You have to look after you, if you’re feeling tense, the whole family will suffer. If you’re feeling relaxed – the family will benefit.
Tip: Give yourself time to unwind. Every day schedule ‘me’ time and make it happen. Read a magazine, go for a swim, have a cappuccino in peace. Treat yourself and feel good, not guilty – you deserve it.
Building holiday memories
Having a great holiday that your children will remember is about investing time, not money. It’s about sharing great experiences. The day will come when your children won’t be on holiday with you. You’ll be alone and they’ll be in Majorca with their friends or working in India on their gap year. Treasure these special times.
Tip: When was the last time you did something for the first time with your children? Do something new together this year. Learn to windsurf or eat snails and when you get home, frame a good photo you’ve taken and write a message to your children on the back. Put it somewhere very visible. When you look at it, re-live your holiday fun. It’s a permanent reminder of what being a family is all about.
Lorraine Thomas is the UK's leading Parent Coach and CEO of the Parent Coaching Academy - She is also one of The Coaching Academy's Youth Coaching Diploma trainers.
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