We all want our children’s holidays to be special. Psychologist Linda Blair explains how to make them memorable for all the right reasons

Source: Times Online UK

Does it seem to you as if all the fun has gone out of parenting? It does to me. Parents these days are under enormous pressure to be “good parents” and to raise perennially happy and continuously successful children.

This is now so common that parenting has begun to feel more like a daunting task, instead of the mainly enjoyable and immensely satisfying part of our lives that it should be. That’s a real shame, particularly because the more anxious parents become the less chance they have of raising those happy and confident children they so desire.

Now is a particularly good time to rid ourselves of this stressful approach to parenting. With the summer holidays upon us, many parents are putting the details on their annual family holiday, worrying far too much about how to make it one that the kids will remember with delight for years to come. I’m convinced this is a relatively new phenomenom.I never remember my own parents showing the least concern about whether we’d enjoy our camping holidays in Colorado. They merely assumed that, because they loved spending two weeks in the mountains, we would as well — and of course they were right, as I shall explain later. So why have things changed? Why do we feel this heavy weight of responsibility nowadays for our children’s happiness?

First, the many rapid and amazing advances in technology have given us the illusion that we can (and therefore should) control far more than we actually can control — and this includes our children’s mood at all times, as well as their success in future. Thank heavens it’s merely an illusion. This attitude not only demeans children, it also encourages them to remain dependent on their parents.

If children are never allowed to make their own amusements, to figure things out for themselves, to recover in their own way from a bad mood, or to learn by trying and failing, then they will never know the joy that comes from effortful success, nor will they ever feel truly self-confident and independent.

Second, when parents think about the time they spend with their children, they are confusing quantity with quality. Many parents have no choice but to work, and — particularly if they didn’t wish to do so — they then feel guilty about how little time they have to spend with their children. But the kids don’t see it that way. To them, the number of minutes they spend with their parents is much less important than what happens during their time together. If children know that when a parent spends time with them that that parent will really listen and encourage them to follow their passions, then they will feel valued and important. If they know that they can count on their parents to keep their word and always to tell the truth, they will feel safe and secure. Quality of time together is what matters to a child, not quantity.

The third reason for the unnecessary pressure that parents feel is the mistaken view that the more material goods children are given the happier they will be. This is nonsense. I can still remember clearly the fun I had with my brother making little wooden rafts that we’d float down mountain streams, ignoring (to our parents’ exasperation) the expensive fishing tackle we insisted they bought us. Material goods — apart, of course, from absolute necessities — may be temporarily enjoyable. However, they create an insatiable appetite for more things. Time spent enjoyably in the company of others or engaged in challenging activities, on the other hand, creates a sense of belonging and satisfaction rather than a hunger for more.

These, then, are the false ideas I encourage you to abandon. Drop the idea of assuming total responsibility for your children’s happiness and encourage them, instead, to take responsibility for their own state of mind. Value the quality of your time together over quantity. And emphasise shared experiences and new learning over the acquisition of more material objects.

There is one other vital point, which is to remember that you are your children’s most important role model. The way you live, the example you set, will have a more powerful influence on them than anyone or anything else.

If you feel hopeless or frightened about the future, if you “sacrifice” yourself to others’ demands or to your work, and if you constantly feel overwhelmed and helpless when problems come your way, then so will your children.

If, on the other hand, you are generally optimistic, you take good care of yourself and consider your own needs and desires to be important, and if you regard the problems that life throws at you as challenges to be met, then your children are likely to approach life in this way, too.

But, let’s move away from these generalities now and refocus on something more immediate — how to plan your family holiday this summer so that you are most likely to have fun and to come away with some happy memories.

You already know a great deal about how to do that now. Your children are most likely to enjoy the holiday if you’re feeling happy and relaxed yourself.

Finally, your children are most likely to remember the holiday if you ensure that they have plenty of opportunities to make discoveries and do things in new ways.

These are the experiences we always remember most readily because whenever we encounter the new or unexpected, we pay closer attention to what’s going on in order to understand it, and that heightened attention creates a more powerful memory.

Think back. Every summer my visiting grandparents brought me a gift — but I only remember one: the time they brought my best friend who had moved away. It was the best present I ever had.

The Happy Child: Everything You Need to Know to Raise Enthusiastic Confident Children, by Linda Blair, is published by Piatkus at £10.99. To order this book for £9.89, including free p&p, call 0845 2712134 or visit timesonline.co.uk/booksfirst

Seven sure-fire ways to make holidays fun

1 Choose a destination that you will enjoy at least as much as your children will.

2 Maintain some of the daily routine your kids are used to at home. As a rule of thumb, the younger the child, the more routines should be maintained, particularly bed, nap and meal times.

3 Minimise “frazzle time” – long periods in the car, train or aircraft – and situations when you will have to wait in long queues.

4 Set clear rules, such as “lights out” time, and stick to them – with one exception (see 6).

5 Allow each family member to choose one activity each day. The only “rules” are that it must be safe and that it must be – at least in part – something new to all of you.

6 Let the kids choose one rule that they are allowed to break each day. Agree on this the night before.

7 Just for fun, have one “backwards” day. That is, start the day with supper, baths and bedtime stories, followed by activities usually reserved for the afternoon, followed by lunch and morning activities, then breakfast.

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