Sometimes success in a certain situation rests largely on how we prepare us and our kids and how we set our expectations. We have to be look ahead and mitigate risk much like a secret service detail.
Because transitions, change, and unpredictability are triggers for our kids, vacations are the perfect storm for increased anxiety, meltdowns, and dysregulation. Here are some things to think about before packing your bags:
- Choose a vacation that allows you to predict some structure but also allows you flexibility when things don’t go as planned (i.e., a meltdown occurs). Going back to the same location repeatedly can also produce less anxiety because there is already a neural template available for filtering that experience. Knowledge equals calmness.
- Communicate about the trip in a visual way. Block out the dates on a calendar. Show pictures of the destination. If possible, create a visual schedule of activities.
- Take as many familiar things from home as possible. Pillows, blankets, and special food are all items that can provide a little bit of extra felt safety.
- Set a LOW bar for the days leading up to, during, and after the trip. This is not a good time to assign extra chores for example (which is tempting while packing and cleaning in preparation for going away). Become a “YES” parent and avoid situations where you have to be a “NO” parent. For example, don’t go window shopping if your child always asks you to buy him things and you can’t afford to. Additionally, relax on the little things (like correcting English or harping on “please” and “thank you”). Your child really won’t backslide that much, and you might actually find that the extra space for positive interactions produces forward steps in other areas.
- Have realistic expectations. Anxiety can often look like an attitude. It is not your job to make sure everyone is joyful and thankful for all the fun experiences you are providing during your vacation. It is also unrealistic to expect that vacation will be easy or relaxing in the same way it is for other families. You will have to pick out the sweet moments here and there that happen between the meltdowns and tense moments. And there will definitely not be a break from the constant “on” that trust-based parenting requires. The ironic thing is that if you go with a more laid back attitude and low expectations, there seems to be more room for those kum-ba-yah moments to pop up.
- Consider traveling with safe friends. This is tough one and can totally backfire but also be really helpful so use your best judgement. If you have some people in your life that will not be scared away by your child(ren)’s behaviors and support and respect your parenting decisions, consider inviting them along. Having extra adults can make it seem more like a vacation to you so it’s just not the same old dynamic in a different place. Other people also have the power a lot of times to diffuse situations. Use that to your advantage to get a break.
Lastly, remember that a successful vacation may not be in the cards for your family yet. Be okay with that. Consider a freedom day instead.
What are some ways you plan ahead to make your vacation successful?