Going on a family vacation can be among a person’s fondest memories. It’s a chance to bond over new and fun experiences and share interesting discoveries. But with several different personalities in the mix, family trips can also be a recipe for squabbles and misunderstandings. Here are a few ways to help keep your vacations rewarding for everyone and relatively drama-free.
Before the trip…
Have a family meeting. Talk about the activities, restaurants, and sleeping accommodations. Discuss what each person wants to see or do and make sure the kids have some role in the planning. Use visual aids like maps, websites, brochures and videos which will clue even the smallest kids in on what to expect.
Make it clear that compromise will make everybody happier. Have an understanding that not everyone will get to do everything that they want to do at all times.
Bring up past vacation mishaps and what the family can do to avoid them. What went wrong? Where, when and how did the drama start? What actions can you take to avoid or resolve the issue? Was Billy too afraid of the water slide to go on it? Was it too hot in the tent to sleep?
While on vacation…
Model good listening behavior. Don’t interrupt. Show interest by providing feedback and responding appropriately. Consider phrases like, “Kathy, I like your idea of seeing how many different bird calls we can hear on the trail by being a bit quiet as we walk.” Or, “Let’s try Mom’s suggestion to taste a local dessert.”
Aim for decisions backed by group consensus. Always reach a decision with the majority of the group agreeable to the matter. Remember, your kids may have opinions too. Providing them with an opportunity to choose may help reduce resistance, especially in teenagers.
Encourage their observations. New places and experiences can make a strong impression on even the most quiet member of the group. Even if there is something uncomfortable about the experience, try to foster mutual understanding and openness about their expression. This eliminates the guesswork so that everyone is truly heard without criticism or judgment.
Disagreements? Remember the power of “I” statements. “I” statements emphasize the opinion of the speaker in a nonjudgmental manner. Using “I” statements can diffuse defensiveness. It reduces accusatory tones so people don’t feel as if they’re being blamed for something. Instead of saying to your son, “Jake, you always wander off when we’re trying to get everyone together for breakfast to start the day,” try saying, “I find it frustrating when you leave us waiting for you and have to hunt for you. I would appreciate it if you would be here on time in the morning.”
Have a one-on-one conversation as the situation arises. Handling certain group situations can be more trying for some people than for others. Say, for example, your daughter seems to be withdrawing. Consider taking a moment to check in with her privately to understand the feelings behind the behavior. You may discover that boat rides make her seasick and she is anxious about this upcoming activity. You might offer to skip this activity and share a day of visiting the aquarium instead.
Find mutually inclusive resolutions to conflict. The resolution illustrated above in the case of your daughter’s feelings is an example of a mutually inclusive resolution. At times disagreement is inevitable and may result in conflict. Some conflict is actually part of healthy relationships, although what makes it “healthy” is how it is handled. Find a solution that makes both people happy rather than having a “winner” and “loser.” During conflict, use “I” statements, manage your emotions, and avoid criticizing the other person.
Respect privacy. Family vacations sometimes throw everyone into close quarters. Maintaining boundaries, personal space, and acknowledging that privacy is important can help to reduce conflict. For instance, if your brother-in-law is reprimanding your nephews (his sons) for misbehaving, avoid getting involved and sharing your thoughts on their behavior or correcting them yourself.
Effective communication can help you and your family has a successful vacation and enjoy the time you spend together. Have a great trip!
How Health Advocate can help
If you’re a Health Advocate member with access to our EAP+Work/Life service, our Licensed Professional Counselors are available to help you and your family communicate more effectively whether at home or on vacation. They can also find resources that can help provide further support.