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Q. My husband and I are planning a two-week vacation with our 8-year-old and 4-year-old children to visit family this summer, for the first time in four years. This is also the longest stretch of time we will have spent with our children away from home, and both of us are stressed in anticipating it. We will be staying with a grandparent who is not used to children in the house, and with an aunt and uncle who are childless. Can you give us some ideas to make this as smooth as possible?
A. Realize that what you're embarking on is not a vacation but a trip. You're absolutely right to look ahead and plan for as positive a trip as possible. This means that although you're away from home, you and your spouse will not be relaxing. Instead you'll be managing your children in a potentially stress-filled environment.
To prepare, tell your children as much as possible about where you'll be going and the relatives you'll be staying with. Also tell them what you expect regarding their behavior. For instance: 1) no fighting in front of the relatives; and 2) keep toys and clothing items tidy.
Two basic rules are enough for them to focus on, but realize you'll need to offer reminders and assistance. Other situations will arise that you'll need to manage, but you'll be able to fall back on these expectations when your children slip up, as they most likely will.
Keep to a daily schedule as much as possible. Include down time for you and your children -- a nap or rest time. Make sure everyone has adequate nutrition; carry along at all times healthy foods for when hunger strikes. Be sure to take along all your children's comfort objects such as a favorite blanket, teddy bear, or doll. Also pack an activity bag for each. These items will occupy them when there's not a child-friendly activity at hand.
Your children will also need time to exercise. Find a park near your relatives' homes where you can take them each day or when they're feeling antsy and out of control.
Do your homework regarding interesting places to visit in the location or city where your relatives live: Amusement parks, children's museums, national or state parks, to name a few. It's best if you have a planned activity for each day.
Also, have your children keep a scrapbook. Every day you'll be going places and seeing new and interesting people and points of interest. Encourage your children to collect brochures or other pieces of memorabilia. Your 8-year-old can even keep a journal along with his scrapbook; your 4-year-old can dictate words for you to write down in her journal.
Include in your travel expenses disposable cameras for each child. Allow your children to take the pictures they want to take and allow them to be in control of its use.
Also keep in mind that your relatives might end up being gracious hosts to your family. They may have activities planned and be very tolerant of children beyond what you can imagine. Connecting with relatives is an important experience for children. Seize this opportunity for your children to learn about their heritage. Ask the grandparent, aunt, and uncle to tell your children stories about their lives when they were children.