According to the Mother’s Dictionary (which has a host of funny jokes, compiled just for parents), the word “vacation” is a noun which means, “Taking your children to a new location to take care of them. Add swimwear and a lack of routine to the mix. Also see “ insanity!”
While most parents will relate to this funny definition in some way or another, going away with your children doesn’t have to be torturous. It is possible to stick to a flexible daily routine while still having fun and being spontaneous together.
Why you should stick to a flexible routine
As much as you might want to throw your kids routine out the window and give up the monotony for a week or two, this might not be the best idea in the end. Why? Because children love routine and structure, even on holiday, says Australian based, child psychologist, Dani Kaufman.
Here are a few reasons why:
- Building a flexible routine will help your child feel safe in any environment.
- Routines help children anticipate what will happen next, which provides them with clear boundaries, expectations and consistency (for the whole family).
- Routines help children develop good habits in life, especially around meal time, bath time and sleep time.
- For example, if you’d like your kids to start cleaning their room once a day, have it become the ritual before dinner time, says Dani. This would apply on holiday too. Also, if you want to nurture a love of books, then it’s wise to build story time into your child’s bedtime routine too – no matter where you are. The same applies to bath times and mealtimes etc.
How to build a flexible holiday routine
When you travel
Whether you’re travelling by car, boat, plane or train, try to work around your child’s sleep/awake times as research shows that children don’t adapt as well as adults to sleep deprivation, and it takes longer for their body clocks to readjust.
Plus, a lack of sleep can accumulate in kids and cause a host of problems including; irritability, depression, mood swings, a poor immune system and the potential to have more accidents due to clumsiness- brought on by fatigue. None of which are welcome on a fun, family holiday, right?
Candice Tehini, mom of twin boys, aged 18 months and Samantha Watermeyer, mom of 2 boys, aged 4 and 2 both agree that it’s best to get a chunk of travel time out of the way when the kids are sleeping. This means leaving at 4am if you’re planning to drive far so that you can drive for a good 2 to 3 hours before the kids wake up for the day.
The same applies to a flight. If your child is young enough to sleep on the plane (without being too excited), then it’s a good idea to fly first thing in the morning when your baby is due for a long nap or over midday – when most kids nap. This way you’ll arrive at your destination, and your child will feel rested and ready to embrace the rest of the day.
If you’re travelling locally, it’s not such a great idea to take an evening flight, says Samantha. She recently had no choice but to take the 8pm flight from Johannesburg to Cape Town with her boys and although they did adjust to the late travel time, they were tired and a little grumpy the following day, says Samantha. In fact, it took them a few days to feel themselves again. “In future, I’d prefer to stick to their bedtime routine because it helps them to feel settled and energised for the following day’s activities,” she adds.
TOP TIP: To help your child feel secure while travelling, always take her comfort toy, blanket or pacifier along. Bedding from home also helps, as well as her favourite books and toys.
When you plan your day
When you plan your daily activities, consider your child’s basic needs first and work around that. This includes adequate rest, clean clothes, healthy food (or breastmilk) and not too much stimulation.
For instance, if you’re planning a day trip and would like to sightsee, think about where your baby or child will sleep along the journey, what food they’ll eat (or where you’ll breastfeed), as well as where you’ll take breaks etc. This will help you plan a daily routine that works for all of you, because a happy child often means a happy family and a successful day out!
You don’t have to stick to rigid times, but it does help to know when your child will most likely be hungry (never leave home without plenty of snacks just in case), as well as when she’ll need to nap. Remember, the combination of wide, open spaces, fresh air and new activities will mean that your little one will more than likely use up more energy than normal and will need to eat more often and possibly rest longer.
A quick nap in the pram might not suffice, so in this case it might help to break the day up and plan a fun morning activity, followed by lunch and a rest at the hotel (or holiday house) and then another late afternoon/early evening activity when everyone feels rested and revived.
On this note, “It’s much easier to commit to one new activity at a time; adding too many changes to the mix will be overwhelming and make you and your child less likely to stick to the schedule at all,” says Dani.
When you prep meals and snacks
While the occasional ice cream on the beach or trip to the sweet shop is all part of a fun holiday, avoid changing your child’s diet too much or letting them have too much sugar. Sugary snacks and foods can wreak havoc with your child’s mood, immune system and energy levels, as well as disrupt their sleep cycle.
A safer option is to stick to a healthy, wholesome diet with plenty of fruits, veggies and high-fibre options (such as oats, rice and wholewheat bread), plus protein to keep your little one satisfied and fuller for longer. The more activities you take part in on holiday, the healthier your child’s diet needs to be to meet their energy requirements. Always pack healthy snacks in your bag such as rice cakes, fresh fruit, and wholewheat sandwiches, but make sure to sit down to proper meals too, just like you would at home.
Tammy is a wife, mom and freelance writer with 15 years’ experience in the media industry. She specialises in general lifestyle topics related to health, wellness and parenting. Tammy has a passion for fitness and the great outdoors. If she’s not running around after her daughter, you’ll find her off the beaten track, running, hiking or riding her bike.