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How to Manage Your Child’s Excitement While On Vacation

Days before we leave, it begins. Usually at bedtime. “Is tomorrow the day we’re going to Grandma’s? How many days till we get to that day?”

At four-years-old, Felix has developed enough of a sense of time to know how a week passes, even if he can’t remember the names of each day. Tell him that we’re going away in five days, or having people over for a pizza party in three days, and he’ll count them down in anticipation. Randomly — during lunch, or while riding his trike — he’ll pop out with “Two days till… !”

He becomes so focused on the future, he doesn’t want to experience the present. “I’m bored,” he’ll grumble. “I want to go visit Nana and Pop-Pop now.” He wakes up early, wondering if today is finally the day we get to leave. At night, he anticipates the fun to come so much that instead of settling into sleep, he lies there asking, “How long till morning time?”

Some of this eagerness belies his anxiety. He’ll list out the things he wants to do while we’re away, at first in a sweet way, but then, increasingly, repeating it like a mantra. “We’ll pick blueberries, and then swim, and have a picnic, and get ice cream at that good ice cream place…” Vacation means a disruption of the norm, and that can be a scary thing for a small child. They take pleasure, and feel a sense of control, around the usual.

These twin feelings, enthusiasm and also nervousness, can disrupt Felix so much that sometimes vacations don’t feel worth the trouble. He becomes tired, and tantrum-y, and prone to freak-outs. My wife and I have developed some tricks to help manage his energy. These techniques don’t eliminate all the emotional upset, but they certainly help. Click on to find out more…

  • Keeping your little one happy, rested, and on an even emotional keel can be challenging! 1 of 8
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    Don't worry, I'm here to help. Click on to find out what you can do to manage your tyke's energy.

  • Maintain a regular bedtime. 2 of 8
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    It might be a bummer to constrict your evenings out, but we all know that tired kids are a real drag. Worse, one late night often ripples across several days, as it takes Felix a while to catch up on his sleep. Besides, he's already going to be thrown-off, as it takes him longer to settle down the first night or two in a new place. So make sure to keep to a regular-ish bedtime routine, and bring along some familiar items — books, a snuggly toy or blankie — to help your child relax.

  • Dole out information in small bits. 3 of 8
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    Your kids should be on a need-to-know basis regarding the vacation plan. If you tell them days in advance that you're going on some crazy, super fun adventure, then that's all they're going to think about. They may become so excited, and build their expectations so high, that they won't even enjoy themselves on the rest of the trip!

     

    Instead, let them know things in small bits and pieces, and manage their anticipation as you do so. Kids have a tendency to get ramped up about stuff, so tone down your descriptions of the fun (unless you think they need some encouragement). And don't forget, they are not going to mind if you drop a surprise on them at the last minute. That can be part of the thrill of vacation. "OMG, we're going to go to a lake with a cooler full of watermelon! Right now!!"

  • Let them have treats, but don’t go nuts with the sweets. 4 of 8
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    We all like to eat good on vacation (ice cream!!), but that doesn't mean you should let your kids have tons of sweet treats throughout the day. Cut the sugar with carrot sticks and cucumber slices, both refreshing in the summertime heat. Or let them munch on pretzels, crackers, or popcorn, and save the cookies and candy for desert.

  • Make sure they still have meals — don’t allow them to snack the day away. 5 of 8
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    Playing in the sun builds up an appetite, and your kids will probably want more fuel to keep the fun going. That's cool, but don't let snacking get in the way of meals. Sitting down as a family to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner is not only special, this rhythm also helps your child measure the day's passing, which from their perspective may just stretch out in one long, fantastic haze.

  • Give them opportunities to go a little crazy. 6 of 8
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    They are on vacation, after all, so provide them opportunities to get their energy out! This can mean impromptu games or swims at strange times. If we know we're going on a car ride mid-morning, we'll try to take Felix out early to run out some of his vigor. Then he'll be ready to sit down and relax for the car ride. Think about your whole day, and how you can help your child get through it without becoming either bored or over-stimulated. Moving a family through a day on vacation is almost like conducting an orchestra. You've got to make sure everyone stays in rhythm.

  • If possible, have some mid or late day quiet time. 7 of 8
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    On that note, when planning your day at the beach, lake, or theme park, don't forget to schedule time for your kids to veg out. Little ones might need naps, but for older children, this means a solid opportunity (especially at the end of a long afternoon) for reading and/or television watching. In addition, periodically during the day we take breaks for coloring or quiet toy playing, usually around snacks. If we hop from activity to activity with no rest, Felix becomes a hot, sweaty ball of uncontainable energy, running and running until he finally melts-down.

  • Share the parenting duties! 8 of 8
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    Speaking of burning out — if one person ends up shouldering the majority of the parenting duties, then he or she is going to eventually hit a wall. Try to trade off, putting one parent in charge for a while so that the other can get a breather.

     

    This list as a whole takes some planning to implement, and requires you think about your days strategically. But with a little forethought, everyone will have a better time!

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