The art of a family vacation requires careful planning. Nothing can make you think “ungrateful children” faster than fielding complaints from your cranky kids while traveling. Lessen your progenies’ peevish behavior by knowing what kids want on a family vacation, and perhaps more importantly, what they need.
Give grade-schoolers and teens a voice.
Involve older children and teens in choosing the trip. Consider whether they want a beach sojourn, a mountain getaway or a city adventure. At the destination, provide a few acceptable choices of activities and let them select what they want to do. Having a say in the vacation goes a long way toward eliciting cooperation—and keeping kids happy.
A jam-packed day can ruin a trip. Remember that the goal isn’t to see it all but to enjoy the experiences. Schedule less so that you make room for the serendipitous. If your pre-teen is happily perfecting her skimboarding (gliding across the water’s edge on a short board), then don’t drag her off to the nearby science center.
Try to maintain eating and sleeping patterns.
“Maintaining some kind of regular bedtime and typical schedule for meals helps kids sleep better and helps them avoid filling up on junk foods,” says Dr. Jeff Bauman, a child and family psychologist in Weston, Florida.
Keep children informed of events.
“Children who are a bit overactive or ADHD behave better when they know ahead of time what they will be doing,” says Dr. Bauman. “Keep them informed throughout the day of what’s coming up.”
Set up a souvenir budget.
Most kids look forward to toting home a keepsake T-shirt, action figure, logo hat or other item. Avoid the “buy-me, get-me, give-me” meltdowns by establishing a souvenir budget before you leave home and sticking to it. Doing so teaches your children how to spend money, whether it’s yours or theirs.
Provide teenagers with some freedom.
Teens want to feel trusted. Make sure these almost-adults have time to hang out at the pool or at the local teen gathering spot by themselves for part of the day.
Plan time alone with each child.
Children, whether tots or teens, want to feel valued by the adults in their lives. When traveling with the family, parents and grandparents should coordinate with each other and schedule time alone with each child. Simple things go a long way. Grandpa can show the grade-schooler how to make those special omelets; grandma can tell the pre-teen about socializing before cell phones, Facebook and Twitter; and a parent can share an afternoon ice cream, a walk to the grocery store or time at the playground with each child.