It seldom crosses our minds when planning an exciting holiday with our children that they might find it more than a little stressful. As adults we have a lifetime of experience with good holidays and different places to look back on that we forget that for little children a holiday means venturing into the great unknown and can have them feeling anything from mild nerves to downright terror. It means leaving the comfort of everything they know and going to … something different. We all know how stressful major life changes can be, and we rarely if ever consider holidays in this category. We’re so busy thinking of them as a welcomed break to our endless routines that we may not even notice out little one’s stress until they’re acting out in weird ways while we’re trying to enjoy the beach or throwing tantrums in the midst of our paradise.
The key to turning holidays from stress into satisfaction for the entire family is in understanding a child’s need for certainty. We all need a sense of certainty to feel OK in our lives — we like to know where our next meal is coming from, that we have a roof over our heads and some cash in the bank and that most people will stick to driving on the left-hand side of the road. Without some certainty we all feel like the carpet is being pulled out from under us and we’re not sure how to react or what to expect. For children, much of their certainty comes from having a sense of routine. Small things like knowing that stories always come before brushing teeth, which comes before bed. This simple sense of knowing what comes next and what to expect helps them to feel that their worlds are still functioning as they should.
While we welcome a break from routine when on holiday — later nights, skipping meals, a lack of routine and order — many kids would enjoy their holidays far more (and therefore allow you to) if you kept some of their familiar routines while away.
Bringing some familiar items along with you can also help them with their sense of security and certainty — a favourite teddy, their own duvet or pillow, a few of their books and toys. This may seem obvious when travelling within SA, but are items often left behind when travelling abroad.
It also helps to prepare children well in advance of a trip as to what to expect when they get there. Google the place you are going to and show them pictures. Let them get involved with planning what you’re going to do there. If you will be travelling overseas somewhere with a different culture / food / language make sure they have some exposure to this beforehand … take them to a restaurant that serves the food, look for books about the country in the library, spend some time on the net.
If your children are going to be doing something that they are unfamiliar with like flying in an airplane, taking a bus or train or engaging in some new activity like snorkelling for example, give them as much information as possible as to what to expect. Ask them how they feel about doing this and address any fears that arise. Often children won’t tell us they’re afraid directly but will start acting up in order to avoid that which scares them. Tackling this head on by asking them beforehand shows that you care and that you’re not just expecting them to be as excited as you. I can remember my five-year-old crying to me before one trip we made because we were going to stay overnight in a youth hostel and she was afraid she wouldn’t know where the bathroom was. It seems obvious to us as adults (with our wealth of experience in different places) that we’ll figure out where the bathroom is when we get there, but to a child who has no such prior knowledge to draw on this can be a serious concern.
In short, for a smoother, less traumatic holiday all round, make sure your children still have some routine on holiday, that they have something familiar to relate to, and that you provide them with plenty of information beforehand.
Image – AFP