Home Mental Health & Well-Being Surviving and Thriving Throughout the Summer Holidays as a Family

Surviving and Thriving Throughout the Summer Holidays as a Family

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Spending time together as family can be magical, but it can also be very stressful, especially when travelling with young children. We spend all year looking forward to it, months planning, saving, and dreaming about it, then the big day arrives for the summer family holiday and the pressure kicks in. Be realistic and prepared; spending intense time in intense spaces with high expectations and low control over weather, travel, wi-fi, and other people is not a prescription for relaxation!

Prepare yourself that everything might not run smoothly. It’s perfectly normal to feel overwhelmed by the stress of pursuing the “perfect family holiday”, but what children need is simply quality time with their loved ones.  Counsellor Margaret Ward-Martin looks at ways to lower your expectations, model healthy stress management, and make the most of the holidays. Here’s how to survive and thrive together this Summer!

Top tips for a stress-free family holiday

  • Be realistic and manage expectations: If you argue and bicker at home, EasyJet or Eurostar are not going to mend your relationships.  All that stuff goes with you, so be prepared.
  • Spread tasks: The stress of getting to places on time for travel or to meet up and not forgetting anything is considerable.  Spread the tasks so that the holiday doesn’t start out with anyone resentful that they have done all the heavy lifting.
  • Manage your frustrations: Try – and this is a massive ask – to make any delays or unscheduled events a part of the holiday when children are involved.  They will be disappointed that points failure at Watford has delayed their trip to Blackpool by four hours but try to manage your frustration in an adult manner.  Leave the tantrums for the toddlers.
  • Be armed and prepared for medicinal needs: Keep your medications on you or accessible.  There is no point in having the Calpol in the hold luggage when your baby is teething at 35,000 feet.
  • Manage expectations: Try not to promise children that they are going to have “the best time ever!”. If it happens, it happens, but if not, they will remember their disappointment and that you under delivered.
  • Be honest with yourself and your family: If you get stressed as a partner or parent you are not going to magic away this about yourself, so be self-aware and honest. If you actually don’t like the heat but somehow think you need to get down to the beach because it is expected of you, just say so.  If you go resentfully, everyone else will pay.  That said, you do need to make an effort! Yes, I get that this is a holiday but not from being as good a person as you need to be to make it as good a time as possible, for all.
  • Manage your behaviour: On holiday – behave!  You, not the children. Be mindful of your language, how much you are drinking, and how you treat others, avoiding ugly sunbed wars. You may have paid and feel (and are somewhat) entitled to get what you feel you have paid for but please do not speak to the staff rudely or in a way that disrespects them. If you have a grievance, get away from a young audience and speak privately.
  • Take care of your relationship if you are with a partner: Try to avoid conflict in front of the children and get some time together, just the two of you.  Even if the children are near, make the effort to catch up with each other.
  • Try not to put yourself under pressure to “go away” if you cannot afford it: The best holiday a child can have is with a parent who is fully present for them, able to share in their interests, and curious about their imagination. If you have a friend or relative to stay with for a few days, that will be enough. The holiday is what you make it.  Unfortunately, even the most reasonable holiday parks can get expensive during school holidays, but you may get a last-minute deal.
  • Let children make some of the decisions and try to let go of control: Maybe they like to kick a football in a particular way. Let them. Try not to live vicariously through your children. Let them be.  You may think they could do it your way and be better, suggesting that, unless very sensitively handled, will leave them feeling inadequate. The alternative is to leave them feeling accomplished; it’s up to you.
  • Gaining skills: All of you – is an excellent way to get through the holiday. Cycling, board-games, anything in water, fishing – a few words of Greek or Spanish – all make holiday memories last.
  • Take some paper, colouring, or puzzle books: It may not make sense to you now, but when the wi-fi has dipped and the battery is out, you will be grateful.  Noughts and crosses will have never felt so sweet!
  • Have fun: Remember fun? No? If your day is tightly controlled with a focus on doing, maybe reassess. Do what brought you peace as a child and find out what the same is for your partner or children.

Margaret comments: “Please remember that holidays are not an exact science and there is no right way so take the pressure off yourself and those around you. Ultimately, the best exploring you can do on holiday is discovering more about the people you are with”.

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