Planning a Summer Family Vacation? Read This First!

family vacation

Family Vacation Tips

How to De-stress and Have Family Fun While Traveling with Children and Teens

Dr. Robyn Silverman

Family fun or family bummed? “I’m dreading our drive out to Orlando this year,” said Jane, mother of 14-year-old Katie Ann, 8-year-old Kayla and 5-year-old Kevin, at our monthly parenting coaching group.  “We haven’t even left yet and I can already hear the cacophony of ‘Are we there yet?’ ringing in my head. The last time we did this, Kayla threw her shoes out the window and Kevin told me I was the worst mommy ever because he was so bored. I don’t know why we do this to ourselves!”

Many families will be making the trek somewhere fun for summer vacation this year.  Perhaps it’ll just be you and the kids– perhaps you’ll be bringing the grandparents along as well. While the trip can be exciting, it can also be potentially stressful.  After all, you’re leaving the comforts of home and throwing your typical routine out the window.  That, coupled with the cramped quarters of the long car ride or the hustle and bustle of a chaotic airport can be a source of uneasiness. While you may not be able to forecast every need in advance or ensure everyone’s happy mood at all times, you can take steps to reduce the hassles.  However, you must be prepared:

(1) Pack for what may go awry: Nobody wants their children getting sunburned, bruised or sick while on vacation.  A little forethought and smart packing can go a long way.  What does your child need when he or she feels tired or sick? What does your daughter need if she gets her period? Ensuring that you have aloe for burns, Band-Aids® for cuts and a special pillow for someone who may get carsick is essential for everyone’s sanity and comfort.

(2) Brainstorm travel games before leaving: There are infinite travel games for planes or long car ride, but we can’t always think of them on the spot.  Brainstorm and research them before you leave.  Games like I Spy, Padiddle (spotting a car with one headlight) and Alphabet can eat up time and don’t require props.  Activities like crosswords, MadLibs™ and “Where’s Waldo” take more preparation and a trip to the bookstore before you leave.  Making sure you have what you need to entertain the troops is vital for a relaxing trip.

(3) Plan stops along the way: While you may just want to get to your destination as quickly as possible, planning scheduled stops during a long drive can reduce stress and provide excitement.  It doesn’t have to break the budget— just give everyone a break! Are you passing an old friend’s town? A national monument? A well-reviewed children’s restaurant? These are great places to get out, stretch your legs, and break up the trip. Some parents who don’t want to take too much time for lunch program a phone number for a kid-friendly deli into their phone and call from the road.  When they reach the restaurant, their food is waiting.  Now that’s fast food.

(4) Create a bonding experience: Many kids have trouble opening up to their parents during face-to-face talks.  In the car, sitting side by side, conversation comes more easily.  Communication games can get things started.  Games like “Share One Thing,” in which someone picks a topic and everyone shares a response to it, can lead to  wonderful stories.  For example, “share one thing that made you laugh this week” can kick things off.  You can also use Sentence Stems like “if I won the lottery I would…”.When conversation is a “side bar” rather than a main event, it feels easier and breezier for everyone.

(5) Get innovative but remember the classics: Classic toys and activities like cards and crayons can provide great entertainment on a long trip.  Try Legos® or dolls to dress up. Handheld games work wonders as well. You can also think outside the box.  Wrap small presents before leaving and let your children open one per hour.  Give your children dry erase markers (which wipe off easily) to decorate the windows.  If all else fails, a portable DVD player will go a long way. Just remember to provide earphones so you can get some peace and quiet during the movie!

(6) Bring snacks: Hungry family members make any trip unpleasant.  Be sure to bring orange segments, carrot sticks, granola bars, and raisins.  And yes, you should probably have some “fun snacks” as well such as a few of your children’s favorite cookies or miniature chocolate bars.  Juice boxes and small bottles of water are easy to pack and carry in small bags.  To keep the sugar factor down, bring a sippy cup or thermos and mix water and juice together to dilute the potency. 

(7) Think Clean and Comfortable: We want our children to be clean and comfortable, but things like food, juice, markers and crayons can lead to big messes. Bring an extra change of clothes for those who are bound to get dirty, and don’t forget wipes and tissues. Make sure your children wear comfortable shoes and take an extra pair in case the ones they are wearing are giving them blisters.   Ask everyone to bring an extra light jacket or sweater in case they get chilly in the car or on the plane. 

We all know what they say about “an ounce of prevention.”  When we ensure that our family is organized and prepared, we can focus on the best parts of the trip—having a great time, enjoying each other’s company and making wonderful memories!  Whether you’re going away or staying close to home, we hope your next family vacation is filled with family fun.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs


Lessons from Aruba: Life Looks Better from a Hammock

Dr. Robyn with iguana in aruba

…From Sandles to Snow Boots in One Day

Dr. Robyn Silverman

It’s always nice to go on vacation and get away from it all…especially when “getting away” means getting away from the snow and bitter cold of the Northeast (at least for me, anyway).

On Friday, I returned from Aruba.  We were in a very turbulent airplane while making it back to Boston in the heavy snow.  I had my feet firmly planted on the Aruba sand in the morning and shoved in snow boots by nightfall.  Oh well.  The vacation (something I take rarely), helped me to remember a few things.  Perhaps vacations do the same for you:

What I learned in Aruba:

(1) It’s important to get in touch with nature: It’s embarrassing.  How much time do we spend on a computer?  Phone? Ipod?  Believe me, I’m guilty of it as well.  In Aruba, I was watching Iguanas crawl on my husband’s shoe.  This would probably be disturbing at any other time in any other place.  But here, in Aruba, it was fabulolus! I was captivated by pelicans in trees.  They reminded me that I was in a special place. And, as you can imagine, I was shocked to stand right next to the flamingos on the beach.  Ahhh.  This is the way it’s supposed to be.  We are sharing this earth with other creatures! Who knew? I don’t know about you, but I sometimes need to be reminded. My phone didn’t work in Aruba– and that was a very good thing!

Dr. Robyn with her husband, Jason in Aruba on flamingo beachThere's an Iguana in my shoe!aruba_pelican

(2) Nothing soothes like a great sunset: Sometimes I’m so busy looking at what’s right infront of me that I forget to look at the amazing sites Mother Nature provides.  Wow.  Sunsets make me breathe deeper and remember why nature inspires artists to paint. You’ll see what I mean below:

Gorgeous Sunset in Aruba with sailboat December 2008Dr. Robyn takes picture of Aruba Sunset with big boat

(3) Beauty can be captured from all perspectives. I love doing yoga.  However, doing yoga on the beach was an amazing treat.  Being the kind of person I a (type A), people might say I have some trouble slowing down.  Yes, I admit it’s true.  I realized in Aruba, while doing yoga on the beach, that when we surround ourselves with beauty, it’s almost impossible NOT to slow down.  Looking up from my morning stretch, I was captivated…and I’ve never breathed so deep. This is what I saw:

View from yoga in Aruba

Now if I could just paint THAT on my gym ceiling…

(4) Explore different ways to exercise: Yoga on the beach is one way.  Dancing is another.  While having breakfast on our first full day, we saw about 50 people taking a Latin dance class.  It was amazing!  People of all shapes, sizes, and ages, were grooving to the music.  One little boy was keeping up with the rest of them…which got me thinking about the trouble we’ve had getting our children to move their bodies and get up from the TV or computer.  Perhaps if we were more innovative about our exercise plans for them– not going to the gym– but doing the fun stuff like martial arts, gymnastics, dancing– we would be getting a lot further.

boy doing Latin dance class in Aruba

(5) Try new things: When was the last time you tried a new food?  It had been a while for me too.  But who could resist trying some of the local seafood in Aruba?  Caught in the morning and served that night, it doesn’t get fresher than this.  We tried local Grouper, Wahoo, Mahi Mahi and some other indigenous fish. Yum.  This is the farthest thing from fast food and TV dinners. It’s even better when you eat it right on the beach.

Dr. Robyn and Jason in Aruba at simply fish restaurant on the beachSeafood Risotto in Aruba

(6) Relax and Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff: My brother used to have a quote on his wall (I believe from the movie The  Natural) that said “Don’t Sweat the Small Stuff.  It’s all small stuff.  If you can’t fight and you can’t flee, flow.” It was written in crayon– but that’s another story. While in Aruba, I checked my email only once everyday.  Since I had no phone access, this was my one way to connect if necessary.  It’s funny, one email I got was from a reader who was very upset that I had a “comma splice” in one of my recent posts.  She actually told me she was “dismayed.” I realized how uptight we can all get about the little things when we’re caught in everyday life.  I made a conscious decision not to fret over it.  Instead, we decided to make a toast to all the things that made us feel grateful. Perhaps this lesson has inspired me to remember to relax in 2009– even if I’m not in Aruba!  Or, at the very least, I need to remember to go on vacation more than once every 5 or so years!

aruba at Pinchos restaurant

(7) Life looks better from a Hammock: Expanding on point number 6– yes, life does look better from a hammock.  Should I put one up in my yard today? Probably not.  After all, it’s like, 5 degrees out today.  The wind chill feels like a layer of skin in being peeled off your face.  However, perhaps I need to keep this picture of me in a hammock– and the views from the hammock– nearby.  There’s something about being suspended gently off the ground while looking up at nature that makes you feel weightless physically and emotionally.  And of course, you have to have a book.  In this picture, I’m reading one of the most ridiculous books I’ve ever read– but hey, I was on vacation!

Dr. Robyn on a hammock in ArubaView from the hammock in Aruba

So, this holiday, as people are running themselves ragged, complaining about the economy, fretting about company, and pulling their hair out because of comma splices or the like, I’m going to will myself to incorporate my view from the hammock into my life.  Is it possible?  I’ll let you know.

Wish me luck. Happy Holidays everyone.

Dr. Robyn Silverman signs

PS Just a funny picture.  These Iguanas thought they’d have a little happy hour in a beach goer’s Pina Colada.

aruba happy hour for iguanas

Family Vacation: 7 Things You Must Pack in Your Bag O’ Sanity

Traveling with Young Children?

What parents should pack in their carry on bag on the next vacation trip

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

It’s happened to all of us at one time or another. Whether it was our own child or someone else’s, we’ve all been confined in a plane, train, or automobile with a child who just never settled down or with parents who were dangling on their last shred of sanity and the prognosis didn’t look good.

Today, the New York Times was talking about being prepared when you visit someone else’s house with children– which reminded me of an incident that my husband and I will never forget when we were traveling. Not too long ago, after a conference where we presented in front of a large group of educators, my husband and I got onto a plane and realized that we were sat across the aisle from one another —me, next to a set of grandparents and a young baby, and my husband, next to an already wound-up mother and her very energetic 2 year old daughter.

During the flight, the frazzled mother tried to keep her child from launching herself over the plane seats as she jumped up and down, threw off her socks and shoes, and yelled “I want that!” with a voice that carried clearly throughout the plane. The father, who was at best, useless, was sitting with his two sons behind my husband, the mother, and the hyper child. Hearing the ruckus but not wanting to take any responsibility for it, he rustled his newspaper and passed his wife a family-size box of Oreos saying “here, maybe these will keep her quiet.”

I know. Those parents who prepare meticulously for long trips are likely cringing right now. Oreos? Don’t give that girl any more sugar! Perhaps needless to say but for pure entertainment, the toddler ate half the box and then proceeded to lick the remaining Oreos and stick them on her mother’s face. All the while, she was yelling—loudly—to anyone who would listen.

What was wrong with that child? Many of you are probably shouting “too much sugar!” while others are shouting “not enough discipline!” But what was perfectly clear was that the child was bored and the parents were dreadfully unprepared. Long trips necessitate planning. Why? Because the longer the trip, the more likely you will face messy delays, confined spaces, and hungry faces. We remember to pack our scuba gear and our underwear but we may overlook some of the most important items that can make things much easier…for everyone involved.

So, what should you pack in your bag-o-sanity? After some research, I’ve found that the items fall into 7 categories: Digestibles, Toys, Clothes, Necessities, Books, Cleaning agents, and other things that could only fit into a category unto itself “Genius Miscellaneous.”

  1. Digestibles: Leave the sugar at home. Granola bars, clementines, bananas, cheerios, animal crackers, juice and water are great choices. To keep the sugar factor down further, mix the water and the juice together to dilute the potency. These foods are all easy to handle and drinks can be easy too if you remember to bring your child’s sippy cup.
  2. Toys/Entertainment: Think compact. Toys should not take up that much room in your “bag o’ sanity.” Nesting cups, legos that snap together, children’s playing cards, small dolls with layers of clothes can occupy a child’s imagination for a significant portion of your trip. Even paper and crayons can go a very long way. Packing some toys or games that the child has never seen before or hasn’t seen in a while can keep a child’s attention for even longer. Of course, if you have a portable DVD player, you can ask your child which movie s/he would like to pack, and view it when all else has failed.
  3. Clothes: Comfort is dependant upon being warm, clean and dry. Putting your child in his “feety” pajamas (if they don’t mind their feet being covered) before the trip can ensure a comfortable trip and may even encourage sleep along the way. An extra change of clothes is invaluable because it can be used for additional layers as well as your first course of action if a spill occurs. Of course, you want these clothes to be easily accessible so that you don’t need to go into the overhead bin or the trunk of the car to retrieve them. This goes double for extra diapers. Time is of the essence when trying to keep a child from crying, screaming or yelling during a vacation trip!
  4. Necessities: All the comfort of home. Don’t forget to pack small packets of tissues, antiseptic hand gel, hand cream, band-aids, and Tylenol (for you and for your child). In addition, if you are used to using pacifiers with your child, make sure that you bring at least 2 or 3 on your trip in case one gets lost. Beside soothing a child, a pacifier or other toys to suck on can be helpful when ears get clogged during the altitude changes. For older child, gum can work just as well. Bring Zip-lock baggies or small trash bags for dirty clothes, dirty diapers or left over food. Your child’s favorite lightweight blanket may seem like an extravagance but to a tired or sick child who regards his blanket as his buddy, it is a necessity.
  5. Books: If your child is old enough, have him choose which book(s) he wants to bring. Books are a great way to keep a child calm and focused because it is an intimate and often “snuggly” activity. Books on tape can also work if you are juggling more than one child at a time. The great thing about books is that they can be read more than once—and you are almost guaranteed that you will know the text word for word by the end of the trip. It ain’t Shakespeare but it can be a far more productive skill to be able to quote “Elmo goes to the Circus,” at a moment’s notice, don’t you think?
  6. Cleaning agents: Oh, the magic of wet wipes. No parent should be without them—especially on a trip when you are confined with your child for hours at a time. There are bound to be spills, dirty faces, stained clothes, and filthy surfaces to wipe down. Of course, if you have a baby, I am sure you can think of some other uses.
  7. Genius Miscellaneous: This is really the magic of being a prepared parent. Feel like we have already covered the basics? Just wait. For parents who have a baby and need to heat up milk on a plane, just ask for a cup of hot water and place it in the thermos you remembered to bring. The bottle can easily be placed in the thermos and heat to the temperature that you desire. It is also advisable to pack bottles with disposable bags so that you do not need to worry about washing the bottle out during the trip. If your baby or toddler is in a carry car seat, you know that you must keep the handle down during travel. Pack some Velcro and hang a bunch of toys on the seat in front of the child and behind the child. You can even connect the toys from one seat to the next and make a make-shift mobile. Plastic cups can also be useful for small finger foods like cheerios so that you don’t have the urge to vacuum the floor once you have arrived at your destination.

One last thing that can make all the difference; an extra set of hands. Grandparents can be an exceptional distraction for children and a godsend for parents who need a break. If you are a single parent or do not have the kind of parents you would like to include on your vacation, bring a friend. While this may mean “extra baggage” on your trip, when one child needs to go to the bathroom and the other one is in a deep sleep, an extra set of hands can be worth its weight in gold. After all, you deserve a vacation too!

Have a wonderful weekend!

A “Grand” Vacation: Can Children Travel with their Grandparents?


Vacationing with Grandpa and Grandma

Dr. Robyn J.A. Silverman

Need a vacation after your vacation with your kids? Perhaps you should take your next vacation at home!

One of the fastest growing segments of the travel industry is called “grandtravel,” meaning, vacations your children take with their grandparents.

As a Child Development Specialist, I am a huge fan of quality time with the grandparents. Research has shown that infants whose grandparents had great family contact earn higher social development scores than those infants who did not have a lot of contact with grandparents. Research also suggests that children feel a unique sense of acceptance in their relationships with grandparents, which benefits them both emotionally and mentally. Grandparents can be a great support during familial disruptions and help to keep routines going. They can also be role models, mentors, historians, supporters, and voices of reason.

Yes, we are talking a lot about self reliance this month—but we don’t have to do it all ourselves all the time! Parents can get so used to relying on themselves, that grandtravel might not be in the forefront of their minds. But the news is showing that the roles of grandparents are changing due to parental age, divorce, and second marriages. So perhaps we can say that capturing intergenerational time is more important than ever.

Grandtravel allows grandparents and grandchildren can gain some quality time together while getting to know each other better outside of time spent with parent. They can also build wonderful memories—memories that are important to build while children and grandparents are young since grandparents may not always be around or able to enjoy special get-a-ways. And of course, parents are able to relax and reconnect while knowing that their children are having fun with people who they know and trust.

Already packing your children’s bags? Here are some tips:

(1) Pick a place where everyone will be happy: Cruises are very popular for grandtravel because they supply everyone with things to do and places to relax. Look for vacations that have activities everyone can do together as well as activities that are just for kids which allow grandparents to take a much needed break and recharge. Here are some other”grand” ideas.

(2) Know the children’s abilities and interests: Can the children swim well? Do they like to explore? Bike? Get on rollercoasters? Factoring in this information will lead to everyone’s happiness.

(3) Let the adults talk it out: Grandparents should talk to their kids first before getting the grandkids all excited about a trip that hasn’t yet been approved. By the same token, parents should talk to their kids about the idea of taking a trip without their parents to gage their readiness.

(4) Have a trial vacation: Don’t make a long vacation be the first time your child spends an overnight with grandma and grandpa. Plan a sleep over or a special weekend with the grandparents and see how the kids do.

(5) Talk out the rules: While grandma and grandpa are typically more lenient that parents, some rules need to stick. Which ones are really important? On the other hand, parents will need to relinquish some control and put their faith in the people who did a pretty good job raising you. Sometimes pancakes for dinner has got to be OK.

In the end, it’s about fun, making memories, and nurturing relationships. We have such a short window to enjoy children when they’re young and grandparents before they’d rather not travel at all. If you have the opportunity, why not give it a try?

Happy Vacationing!