By Lisa DiSciullo, Certified Parent Educator
School is almost over and you are bound to have some vacation plans this summer. Whether it is for day trips here and there or a week long jaunt, planning, packing, and corralling the troops and the stuff can feel like the actual “vacation” is more work than it’s worth. If you’re feeling burdened, you are probably taking on that whole task as solely your responsibility. There are very healthy and reliable strategies that not only can unburden you, but offer a chance for your spouse and children to participate, have more independence, and fun as well.
Before we start, if you are one of those parents that gets NO cooperation and do everything yourself, you’ll look at this list and laugh out loud thinking there’s NO WAY my kids will step up to that. I encourage you to start with ONE thing, maybe each person carries their own suitcase (that you’ve packed) out to the car. Wait at the car until everyone’s bag is in there. Don’t go back and get it for them. You can say “Oops, I see one suitcase is missing,” let them evaluate which one and calmly wait. Resist the urge to call someone out “Katie, you forgot yours.” That will fuel rivalry issues and discourage the child who forgot. When you get to your destination, everyone carries their own bag and add one more activity, maybe they unpack it into drawers. There are many suggestions below to assist kids to take responsibility for themselves, their stuff, and move the family toward working more as a team. The benefits for you are more independence for them, less dependence on you, and more fun on vacation.
So the key themes here are: Involvement and setting expectations. Start by having conversations weeks before the vacation about:
What you will need to take?
What activities you will do once there?
How will routines be different?
Where everyone will sleep?
How you will get there?
How long will it take?
Who else will be there?
What is everyone responsible for?
As the date approaches, talk about preparations and who will do what.
Give everyone age appropriate responsibility for their own things. Everyone should have their own suitcase or duffle bag.
Work on a list for them to pack, how many bathing suits, how many pairs of underwear, etc. Have them lay out the clothes and you check over what they’ve selected. It’s great to involve them but be careful not to set them adrift on their own path. If they pick out winter clothes for a beach vacation it will be hard to steer them back onto the right path. Give them some guidance about what they need, for example 5 short-sleeved shirts and then let them pick which shirts. Share your logic with them, “You might need a sweatshirt for the cool nights” or “If you pack 9 pairs of underwear for 7 days, you’ll have extras in case we don’t do laundry.”
Teach them about putting together an outfit. I remember saying to a five-year-old once “That’s a cute outfit.” and she said “It co-ordinates.” Her mother had taught her the difference between matching and coordinating her clothes. I was very impressed!
Have them pack their own suitcase – I’ll never forget the first year my daughter went to camp, I packed everything diligently to make sure she had all she needed. When she got home she said, “Mom it was so scary, one night I had to go to the bathroom and I couldn’t see where I was going.” When I asked her why she didn’t use the flashlight, she said she didn’t have one. I reached over and unzipped the pocket where I had stored it, and there it was. She said, “I didn’t know it was there!” If she packed it herself, she would have known.
Have them gather other things that the whole family will need with a list: sheets, towels, sunscreen, beach toys, flip-flops for packing in the family bags.
Once you’ve arrived, have them unpack their clothes into drawers so they know where to find things.
Make sure they know where to put dirty clothes at the end of the day.
Give each person their own towel that they are responsible for hanging up to use again the next day.
Have them take some time on the first day to get set up – when we went to a shore house we needed to bring our own sheets and towels. When my kids were old enough they put their own sheets on their beds and stripped them at the end of the week. Make sure to take the time to show them how to make the bed if they haven’t before. A matter-of-fact attitude is important here so it doesn’t feel like drudgery. It just feels like getting ready to have fun.
Make a big deal to “meet” once everything is unpacked and set up to officially declare work is done and it’s time to play.
If meals are an issue, have every person pick one night to plan a meal, or pick what or where you’re going to have for dinner.
All along the way acknowledge their contributions and how everyone is working together.
“We’re really working together as a team.”
“You’re really taking care of your stuff today.”
“You put those outfits together all by yourself. You couldn’t do that last year.”
You’re teaching them that work comes before play and that everybody pitches in. Not only will they end up having more fun in the end, you’ll be able to relax and have more fun with them. Isn’t that what vacation is all about?
Have a great vacation! Until later remember…parenting matters!
Lisa DiSciullo, CPCC, is a Certified Parent Trainer by the Parent Encouragement Program (www.pepparent.org) and Certified Life Coach. Her company, Parenting Matters NJ, provides classes and workshops in the Summit, NJ area that result in parents having increased confidence, children becoming more competent, and stronger families. For more information call her at 908-516- 0831 or email at firstname.lastname@example.org or visit www.parentingmattersnj.com.