Do you and your family have a vacation planned in the near future? Family vacations are a great way to spend time together in a different place to relax and bond. Unfortunately, when several types of different personalities are involved in planning, it can be difficult to manage everyone’s wants, needs and opinions. Nevertheless, with effective communication, family vacations can be relatively drama-free. Consider these tips when you’re planning a vacation with your family.
Before you go…
Discuss everyone’s expectations for the trip.
- List activities, restaurants and other places to see that everyone wants to do. If you’re traveling with kids and teenagers, allow them to choose from ideas and activities they may enjoy doing so they feel included.
- Prioritize the list so that the “must dos” are completed and no one misses out on an experience they were really looking forward to.
- Acknowledge before you go that not everyone will get to do everything that they want to do at all times.
- Agree to compromise. Compromising is one of the most important parts of a successful family vacation. If everyone gets some of what they want, everyone will be much happier.
Think about past family vacations and learn from those experiences. Consider the following questions:
- What went wrong?
- Where, when and how did the drama start?
- What actions can you take to avoid or resolve the issue?
While on vacation…
Practice effective listening. The majority of communication is the act of listening and deciphering messages you hear or see in non-verbal cues. When speaking with someone, give them your full attention, avoid interrupting, observe their body language, show interest in what they’re staying, and let them know you’re listening by providing feedback and responding appropriately.
Make decisions with group consensus. In every group there are leaders, but having one person make all of the decisions can detract from the “family” vacation. 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.
Communicate openly. Emphasizing open communication in your family is helpful whether you’re on vacation or at home to show your kids they can share anything with you. Open communication helps to foster mutual understanding and eliminates the guesswork so that everyone is truly heard without criticism or judgment.
Be assertive. Assertiveness is a trait important to effective communication. Being assertive may help you state your thoughts, convey your feelings and say “no” when necessary in an open and honest way without being aggressive or overconfident. As a result of being in tune with your thoughts and feelings, you may be more willing to understand the perspective of others.
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.
For instance, say your daughter left the cereal, her dirty bowl, and milk out on the counter and walked away. Rather than approaching her with the statement, “Why do you always do leave stuff around? You’re constantly leaving things out,” explain to her, “I find it frustrating when you leave things out, I would appreciate it if you could please put them away.”
Manage emotions. If you find yourself or others getting upset, irritated and having a difficult time communicating your/their feelings, manage the emotions by addressing the needs and reasons behind the feelings.
For instance, say your sister is upset and withdrawing herself as well as her young kids from some of the activities planned. She hasn’t explained to you why, but she’s also not really talking to you and seems angry. By talking to her about the issue, you may come to find out that she feels she and her family are excluded because the activities aren’t age appropriate, in her opinion. With this information, you’re able to find a solution that makes everyone happy, such as going to the aquarium after the “bigger kid” activities.
Find mutually inclusive resolutions to conflict. The resolution illustrated above in the case of your sister’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. Basically, mind your own business. Family vacations sometimes occur in 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 have a successful vacation and enjoy the time you spend together. Have a great trip!
For Health Advocate members
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.