This was supposed to be fun

Managing Big Feelings on Family Adventures

Wow… I wish I had this nugget of information when I was parenting young children! The Center for Family Life and Recovery offers an Employee Assistance Program that is staffed with individuals who are continuously searching for information to help make work/life balance better and more fulfilling for you and your employees.  The following is what one of our EAP Coordinators found while doing a bit of  research  and thought other parents could use to better a family getaway.   

Imagine, you work all year to take a few glorious weeks off with your family… only to have child 1, 2 and 3 each spend the beginning of it, stressed, crying and throwing temper tantrums.  Would you like to know why?  

When your family goes on vacation, all the rhythm and predictability of home is replaced by adventure, new places, and lots of togetherness. All the things that make family trips fun are also the same things that can easily get very young children off track. 

“When the family comes together and spends extended time, a child’s limbic system, the seat of their emotions, gets the signal that life is better than usual. Feelings that don’t correspond to the closeness, the ease, or the sense of relaxation pop up, ready to be released. Those feelings, held in storage for days or months or years, don’t match the present circumstances. It’s as if the limbic system says, “Hey, we have a wad of xyz upset in here that is old and taking up lots of space. The world isn’t xyz any longer. Let’s heave it on out!” and up comes the upset, right at the time when parents are trying to relax and enjoy their children.” 

If you’re not ready for your children’s emotional cleansing sessions, you’ll be irritated for sure. It can feel overwhelming to a parent that has spent the entire year dreaming of a relaxing, family fun filled vacation! But processing emotions is hard! Just think of how long an adult takes to fully unwind when on vacation, and that is with adults having years of practice, knowing how to appropriately de-stress.  Kids don’t always have these processing abilities… and fun, can often be overwhelming! So how can parents help and manage the inevitable vacation meltdowns?  Here are some tips to help adults get through the emotional ups and downs of taking children on a vacation: 

Allow time to de-stress. -Schedule time to watch their favorite show, let them play their favorite video game.  This can often feel like a waste of valuable vacation time, but kids need habits of normalcy too.  

When a child displays off track and unreasonable behavior, they are often asking for us to bring a limit to help them stop. – Don’t be afraid to sit in the emotions for a bit! Sit with the melt down but offer limits! For example: I understand sleeping in a strange place, can be hard, let me lay down with you for a bit and talk about all the fun things we will do tomorrow after a good night’s sleep.  

Being empathetic while still saying no. -If you can remember that when conditions are especially good, children can cry about times they weren’t wonderful, and that they do this so they can leave the emotional debris of that past incident behind, you’ll think, “Well, this is a hassle for sure. But here we are, we don’t have anywhere we have to be. We can sit here and listen to her cry about wanting a second stuffed animal. We can just keep saying ‘No,’ and loving her. That’s what she needs, and that’s what we’ve got. Time and love. The rest of the people here we’ll never see again. If they are bothered by us, they can find another gift shop.” Hand in Hand Parenting 

Every family is different, so embracing the change and stress of vacationing is going to look different for every family.  Managing our own adult stress is key to engaging our little ones’ outbursts.  Remember we, as adults are very aware that keeping everyone’s’, passports and boarding passes organized is much more important than having the bag of Goldfish crackers at the ready, but kids could care less about paperwork and cannot grasp the why’s of not having the snack at the ready per usual! Understanding that outbursts and overflow of emotions in different environments is completely normal and even healthy, may just help get that family vacation back on track!  

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