by Sally Peck, The Telegraph, March 23, 2018
Happy family holidays are all alike; every unhappy family trip fails in its own particular way, as Tolstoy nearly wrote.
To ensure the former outcome, tour operators offer increasingly elaborate itineraries. Hotels rely not just on kids’ clubs now - they’re kids’ clubs with educational programmes, from young paleontologist to young conservationist to junior chef to footballer-in-waiting. Even villas, the mainstay of family holidays around the Med, are no longer just homes-from-home - they come with private boats, trainers, local guides, art lessons, and Wi-Fi that works better than at home.
These are all happy diversions. And yet, what if we’re getting it wrong? What if our children don’t want to *do* anything in their time off? What if their main goal is to accomplish exactly nothing while they’re away?
What if, in fact, the top of your child’s agenda is that you ignore your work emails while you’re away and instead spend time with them outdoors having adventures? And what if they’re right?
The happy holiday checklist – what are you getting wrong?
1. The kids want to spend time with you
One in three children put spending time with their parents at the top of their holiday wish-list, according to a survey of 1,000 children aged 6-12 by Marella Cruises, though one in 10 children warned that this might be scuppered by their parents worrying too much about work and checking their emails too often.
2. The iPad is not a holiday essential
These have become a must on any family holiday packing list and parents of young children increasingly rely on them in restaurants, aeroplanes and cars to keep their children entertained. But a quarter of the children surveyed said they’d rather explore with their family than stare at a screen - and less than three per cent said they wanted to spend their holiday playing on a device.
3. Stop taking photos and try to enjoy yourself IRL
Twenty-one per cent of children surveyed by Marella Cruises complained that their parents took too many pictures. Your family's holiday is about spending time together, not virtual competitions with friends from school to showcase your fabulous lives.
4. Think democracy, not dictatorship
We’re not talking about specific destinations, here, but the manner in which they are chosen: children like to at least believe that they are involved in planning their holidays, with 59 per cent wanting the freedom to choose the family activities and half saying they would like a say in the destination.
5. Parlez-vous anything else?
Are you trying and failing to speak the local language? Because children listed that as a pet peeve, too. Perhaps brush up as a family ahead of time - at the very least, learn how to say “I’m sorry, I only speak English,” in five different languages, and then leave it at that. Don’t do the thing where you repeat your foreign words in increasingly high volume, however. That just embarrasses everyone.
So, what should you do?
“The fact that there was an overwhelming response in wanting to spend more time with their families on holiday shows that this primal desire to connect is very powerful,” said Dr Anna Colton, a child and adolescent psychologist.
“Wanting outdoor activities further demonstrates the desire for connection and family time, as these activities are not done alone.
“It is fabulous to see that the research backs up what we already know is of such fundamental importance to good mental health in our children.”
The children surveyed put water park visits (55 per cent), theme park visits (51 per cent) or a day by the pool (39 per cent) high on the agenda. Going out to eat favourite foods (43 per cent), building sandcastles (39 per cent) and the freedom to pack what they wanted were also priorities.