Expectations are some of the most difficult things to deal with as a parent. Not just our own expectations, but the expectations of family, friends, neighbors, and the school community.
This is the first of a series of blogs regarding being honest about what we expect from our family life. We will BEGIN the process of recognizing what is working and what is not, moving towards re-creating expectations that are realistic and helpful instead of a burden.
CAN we all agree that often expectations add an undue strain to the already difficult job of parenting? This is especially true if you are parenting kiddos with anxiety, mood issues, autism spectrum disorder or kiddos from hard places, (kiddos from hard places = kids with a history of trauma, abuse, neglect, have been in foster care or adopted at a later age.)
In order to move forward and learn to enjoy our kids more, we all have to learn to re-create our own expectations for our life with kids.
Each post in this series will ring true for most families. However, if you are caring for a kiddo from a hard place or who experiences other emotional or physical struggles, then each of these scenarios will be magnified.
The key is to prepare as much as possible. Expect things to go differently than planned!
I am starting the series off with A discussion about Family Vacations.
The first thing to remember is that vacations are WORK when you have kids. They can still be great fun, but may not provide much rest for the parent or guardian.
Note: Family vacations add fun, but also stress and anxiety for all children. If you have a kiddo with more than a typical amount of anxiety, family vacations can be pretty rough.
One of my own kids from a tough place struggles the first night of every vacation, no matter where and when we travel. The first night anywhere often ends in a meltdown around bedtime. Anxiety kicks in and this child cries, screams, and says things like, “I’m not loved,” “I don’t deserve a family,” “I should just sleep in the street.”
Unfortunately, the stress and chaos of these days means I do not always handle this situation well. On more than one occasion I have forgotten that this is our normal. And after a good but tiring day of travel I act surprised and impatient when my child or children are not acting like themselves.
So what to do? Never go on vacation again?
It is important in our family to have new experiences and adventures. However, we are aware that certain experiences are just too much for our kids. Top on our list of “too much” IS Disney World or crowded city streets and places that are over stimulating.
This will not be true for all families, but this is what we have found to help ours.
Prior to travel we discuss our plans with our kids, where we are going and what we are going to do. We also discuss the anxiety that usually surfaces on the first night and while experiencing new things. We do this with both kids. We review our coping skills, what helps us stay calm and what doesn’t, as well as how to ask for help when feeling overwhelmed or anxious.
In order for our kids to feel their best and have a successful vacation, we choose more low key destinations. Often we split driving up into more than one day and stay in hotels on the way. We plan our first day of traveling to end in the late afternoon. This Usually gives us enough time to swim in the hotel pool, have dinner, and still be back to our room around 7 or 7:30 pm.
We try to maintain our normal bedtime routine, including reading out loud as a family. We usually have checked a few books out from the library about the place we are traveling. We explore those together and then continue reading the next few chapters of a middle grade novel we have started at home.
And then when one child or the other starts to feel anxious, gets jittery, overly silly, hyper, or angry, we try to remain patient and calm. It is important as parents that we are the face of calm in the room. We use Daniel Hughes “PACE”. We make sure our demeanor and tone is Playful, Accepting, Curious, and Empathetic.
Remember, we have been planning for this. So we gently remind our kiddo of their anxiety and that we love them and we are present. We empathize, “that must make you feel so sad that you feel unloved,” “I am so sorry you don’t feel like part of this family.”
Since we have recognized the pattern and prepared ourselves and our child, the length of meltdowns has reduced. In the past these meltdowns have lasted anywhere from 20 minutes to 2 hours.
If there is more driving, we usually try to start the next morning with another swim. Physical activity is one of the best ways to get out some of the anxious feelings. Along the way we also stop at parks and rest stops to play on playgrounds and to take walks.
We plan to have a car full of snacks. We know hunger is one of our worst enemies. Additionally, screen time is kept to a minimum in the car. I have lots of friends who can drive for 12 hours with their kids watching movies or playing on tablets. This does not work for our kids. Too much screen time causes more meltdowns, whining, and over stimulation.
Instead, we sing along to fun music, listen to audiobooks as a family, and play games. Before a long trip I usually prepare activities for the kids including some surprises from the dollar store. These usually include small toys and their favorite, but rarely allowed snacks.
When we arrive at our destination, we first focus on physical activity, food and rest. From there we stagger our days with activity and down time. In order for everyone to have a good time we cannot push our kids too hard to see and experience everything. Being flexible and willing to change plans when needed is important.
Don’t expect to take perfect Instagram worthy shots of family fun all day, every day.
Additionally, it is important to remember and accept that kids are still themselves on vacation. They bring their struggles with them.So if a kid struggles at home, they will struggle on vacation. If your kiddo struggles with crowds or new things or too much noise, yep, they still will on vacation.
- Plan ahead
- prep your kids about the travel plans
- remind them that new things often cause anxiety
- review coping skills and ways the family plans to address difficult feelings as they come up
- plan trips to places that are right for your family = not over or under stimulating
- travel at whatever pace works best for your kids
- plan to be flexible and ready to change plans
- keep as many routines in place as possible
- remember this is supposed to be fun
Don’t put too much pressure or yourself and your children to make life changing memories!
The most important part is creating plans that work for your family. They may not look like the vacations of anyone else you know.
But did you spend quality time with your family?
Did you try a few new things?
Did everyone at least have a little fun?
Then that’s a win in my book. And maybe you will get 1 or 2 Instagram worthy photos. But if you don’t, oh well!
Want to learn how to make healthy expectations for your own family? We can help. Contact us at Emotional Growth Counseling Services.