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Enjoying a Headache-Free Vacation: 25 Tips for Parents

While travel is fun, family vacations introduce challenges, stressors, long stretches of boredom, and days of over-stimulation. Family vacations can be stressful times filled with tantrums and trouble, but it doesn't have to be that way. Use the tips below to survive your next family vacation:

1. The first thing that you can do is start by nipping the temper tantrums in the bud at home first. Remember that discipline will have to start at home if you expect it to continue when you are outside of the home. There have to be strict rules, and consequences for bad behavior. The key to ending the temper tantrums is sticking to whatever form of discipline you choose. Whatever punishments you use at home you will also want to use when you are away on vacation. This way your youngster will know that no matter what they do, and where they are you will end up suffering the consequences. If you are going to be traveling by plane, or boat and you have multiple kids, it can be very difficult to manage those little temper tantrums that occur. In this case you may want to consider taking along some help.

2. Accept that sometimes nothing you do is going to work. You may just need to wait the meltdown out. Try to stay calm and help your youngster reconnect and relax when it’s over. If she’s willing, try to figure out what set her off so you can avoid the situation next time.

3. Apologize to those around you. It may soften a few of the evil glances shot your way. It also shows you are trying to deal with the situation and understand that it may be inconveniencing others.

4. Be realistic. Children will only tolerate so much, and they do not have the capacity to cope that grown-ups have. Put yourselves in their shoes. If you would get antsy visiting a stuffy museum, imagine how they will feel spending the afternoon shopping. Keep the activities that clearly will only interest grown-ups to a minimum, or book a hotel with babysitting services so you can have some parents-only time.

5. Distract your youngster. If a meltdown is in the early stages, distraction may work. Look out the window for airplanes, offer a snack, a sip of soda, or even (if you're desperate) a piece of candy.

6. Don’t try to reason with your youngster. A youngster in the midst of a full blown meltdown doesn’t want to hear logic or reasons why he shouldn’t scream. Do try to reflect what you think your youngster is feeling back to them. “You’re tired because we’ve been flying all day” or “You wish your food would come faster because you’re very hungry,” etc.

7. Don’t try to teach limits on behavior with your words rather than consequences. This is a common mistake we all make. We start to see our children moving toward inappropriate behavior, or perhaps they're getting out of control, and you begin to remind them or lecture them or scorn them. As the day wears on, we find ourselves getting more and more of this. If you happen to have a youngster who is somewhat difficult or challenging, you know that this can escalate into a situation that quickly grows out of control. You avoid this mess by turning toward consequences, and not words. As you set your expectations with children, let them know what the consequence will be for their failure to honor a particular limit.

8. Don't let a youngster's tantrum ruin your vacation. If your youngster is going through this face you should be well prepared mentally that it will probably happen. Just consider this to be a phase you need to be able to deal with. Also you don't want to allow your youngster to see you get upset. If they see that no matter how they act you will stay calm, fewer temper tantrums will occur.

9. Grown-ups need fun too. Hire a babysitter for a night on the town and you will model to your kids the importance of taking care of your relationship. Ask the concierge about the babysitting services the hotel provides or recommends. Make sure that the sitters are screened for background checks, and that they are CPR and First Aid certified …then take some time to dance the night away. Also, book adjoining rooms for older kids so you can have some alone adult fun time too.

10. Head off the temper tantrums at the pass. As a mother or father, you notice the signs that a tantrum is brewing. It could be whining, or attempts to agitate their siblings, and you know that these are the early warning signs that the tantrum storm is coming. Take a minute and breathe before you respond. Kids pick-up on your emotional state and mirror it via the phenomena of mirror neurons, meaning if they are agitated then you are likely to mirror their emotional response, which only amplifies their tantrum. Research suggests taking a deep breath allows you to increase the flow of oxygen to your brain, whereby you’ll approach the situation from a calm and rational place, rather than reactive response. Take a breath, let your youngster know you understand how they feel, and then calmly talk with your youngster.

11. Ignore rude comments or looks. You aren’t the first parent to have this happen and you surely won’t be the last. You’ll most likely never see these people again and your youngster should be your focus.

12. Keep routines on vacation. This is easily the most overlooked, yet most crucial, aspect to keeping things sane and calm on your family vacation. It's so easy in the excitement of sightseeing and travel activities to throw routine out the window. It's also easy, since you're in a strange place without the comforts of home, to think routine cannot be maintained. You can keep a routine, even if it's done by following the simple things. Bring favorite toys and books. Maintain the same bedtime routines. If your youngster always naps at noon, it isn't fair to expect him or her to behave in a boring museum at that time. Go back to the hotel for lunch and a nap, and return to your day's activities afterwards. If your teen likes watching the Simpsons each evening, bring a DVD of the show and a portable DVD player.

13. Keep them entertained. The best thing you can do to keep the peace is to always be sure the kids are entertained. Bored children get grumpy, which leads to moms and dads who get grumpy. Pack a family travel tote bag for the road with easy-to-access items. Let them pick out favorite items to bring along for the trip.

14. Listen to your youngster. If he wants to sit on your lap, let him. If he’s incoherently babbling, encourage him to calm down and talk to you. Even though it probably won’t calm your youngster, it will let him know you’re listening and want to help.

15. Many kids have a difficult time with transitioning, going from one thing to the next, and for some kids a vacation is over-stimulating. They may have a difficult time with loud noises, new experiences, or may be sensitive to moving from one place to another. Often temper tantrums are a youngster’s way of expressing that they are overwhelmed. A little preparation can help with the transitions. Share with your youngster images of where you are going and talk about what they will see and experience. They can even begin a scrapbook with images of their vacation before they leave and complete it when they return, so they have a feeling of control over the experience. Pack a few things in your youngster’s travel backpack that will help your youngster with transitioning and waiting, such as favorite music on their mp3, favorite DVDs, a new coloring book, or a new toy. Remember to always pack snacks and juice or water; a hungry kid is a cranky kid (and that goes for grown-ups too).

16. Pick vacations that will have something each family member can enjoy. No, you don’t have to sacrifice grown-up time to enjoy a happy family vacation. Choose a location that will have something for everyone, such as a family friendly cruise with kid themed activities and lots of adult amenities or the family resort with the water park that suits mom’s desire to shop and dad’s golfing needs. If you have more than one youngster share some special “vacation alone time” with each youngster, where they can spend time with mom or dad doing an activity they choose.

17. Plan ahead, but be flexible. While it is wonderful to be spontaneous on vacation, planning ahead can avert many tantrums. If you know you want to see a certain attraction, it is best to head out first thing in the morning if you will need to return for a midday nap. If there will be long lines on Saturdays, visit popular spots on weekdays. Even so, with kids it is best to be ready to alter those plans at a moment's notice. Don't be so married to the idea that your road trip should last 6 hours that you don't give your kids enough of a chance to stop and stretch their legs.

18. Set standards of behavior. Your youngster may not be used to spending time in fancy restaurants or stuffy art galleries. Make it clear before you go that you expect good behavior on the trip. You can use the fun kid stuff as incentives. If your youngster acts up during your family vacation, remove the youngster from the situation or give a time-out on the spot. Do not allow a tantrum to dictate your behavior or result in a reward just for the sake of peace.

19. Take a break. Sometimes there is just so much that your youngster can experience in one day before they become overwhelmed. Create some downtime each day where they can just play in the pool or chill with their tunes. Be realistic for the developmental age of your youngster – and just how much activity is too much – and you will minimize exhaustion temper tantrums.

20. Take a deep breath. You need to stay calm in order to deal effectively with an out of control youngster. Count to ten if you need to before you try to help your youngster.

21. Take him to a quiet place. In a pinch, an airplane restroom or restaurant porch will do. The change of scenery may do the trick; at the very least it’ll help you feel calmer if there are fewer people around.

22. You may be working too hard to make them happy. All that you can do is expose them to a wonderful experience full of great opportunities for laughter and fun, and let them learn to accommodate long lines, disagreements with their siblings, and the need to get out of the sunshine before they get burned to death. In these moments of unhappiness, allow them to have their moment. You don't have to rescue them from it. In fact, they need to learn how to rescue themselves from this. This is a critical life lesson.

23. Consider shorter vacations. Rather than going on the traditional week-long excursion, consider a “weekend get-away” or a 4-day trip. Why go away for 7 days if the last 3 days are going to be pure hell.

24. At the risk of suggesting something illegal, some parents have been known to “borrow” a couple of valium from a friend for the “super-stressful moments” that may occur during the trip. Also, bring plenty of your favorite over-the-counter headache medicine

25. Keep the following tips in mind when taking a flight with kids:
  • Don't stress if they get upset
  • During boarding, take off and landing, talk to your children about what is happening - ask them to tell you what they see
  • Have a sucker or drink to help with ear popping
  • Let children burn off energy in airport before getting on plane
  • Lots of snacks, and activities
  • Make sure they are comfortable
  • Stay calm and prepare for the flight
  • Walk around plane when you can

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