How a little planning can keep kids happy on holiday
Taking the children on a break doesn't always spell relaxation and downtime for parents, but a bit of forethought can ensure everybody has a good time. Lisa Salmon quizzes the experts
It's nearly time for many families to escape the miserable Northern Irish weather and jet off to sunnier climes. But for a lot of parents, a sunshine break brings the same childcare and child entertainment responsibilities they have at home - and that doesn't make for holiday relaxation.
However, plan your holiday in advance and take the right equipment and toys, and the whole family can have a great time, travel and parenting experts promise.
Here are their top tips for happy holidays with the children ...
Debi Green, founder of website babygoes2.com, suggests:
- Take a holiday pack of small activity items for toddlers to dish out during your journey and the holiday itself. This could include a colouring book and crayons, puzzles, small toys such as finger puppets, a picture or story book or a scrapbook to put their memories form the trip in.
- Introduce a fixed and regular quiet time when young children always come out of the sun and concentrate on an activity from their holiday pack, and possibly have a nap. Make a communal 'holiday chill area' in the shade, using lilos, towels, and pillows.
- Take children on a short treasure hunt and make a seaside or countryside sculpture from what they collect.
- Take a few simple wrapped toys or games and create a lucky dip for mid-holiday excitement.
- If staying in a villa, pack a small paddling pool - fun for babies and tiny tots, and easy to monitor from your sun lounger.
- Organise a mini pool Olympics, which can be as simple as jumping in the pool, swimming to a rubber ring and picking up something from the pool floor, all timed.
- Encourage any slightly older children to compile a holiday diary or scrapbook or an online photo album.
Catherine Cooper (www.catherinecooper.net), author of Travelling With Children: A Parent's Guide (Need 2 Know, £9.99), suggests families with young children opt for self-catering accommodation if possible.
"You can prepare meals when you want, put them down for a nap when you want and sit outside and have a glass of wine while they sleep," she points out.
Cooper also believes kids' clubs are a "godsend", although she advises to ask themselves, what's the children-to-adult ratio? What are the opening times? And how are the age groups split?
She adds: "You probably won't want to send them off for the whole week, but a few mornings or afternoons here and there will give you the time to relax, and them the time to make new friends - and often try out some amazing activities."
KEEP TEENS ENGAGED
Green warns that when it comes to holidaying with teenagers, it's "slightly more tricky, since boredom looms a little larger on their horizon".
- If possible, choose a holiday with an element of independence - perhaps they can walk to a nearby shop or the beach on their own.
- Give them their own space, perhaps a den or an area around the pool for chilling.
- Plan ahead to fend off boredom - days with a good mix of chilling and active periods tend to work well.
Parents have to make time for themselves too - it is everyone's holiday, after all. Green suggests that you:
- Remove obvious hazards that will thwart relaxation; choose gated pools for non-swimmers, enclosed gardens, no high balconies or outside staircases.
- Consider holidaying with friends or family so that you can take turns to supervise, and so the children have playmates.
- Hire a babysitter or nanny for a few hours as often as you can afford it. Green explains: "Children are relaxed because parents are still on-site, but parents can relax because the nanny is taking the responsibility of monitoring."
- Some resorts offer a 'babe watch' service, where they'll briefly look after babies and toddlers in a shaded area on the beach while parents have a stroll/swim.
- Choose sun loungers close to the children's pool or beach so you can be easily watch the kids from a comfortable position, and also choose a room where you can relax outside while babies and younger children nap.
"Holidays with children are not the same as romantic couples' getaways or trips with friends," warns Mumsnet editor Kate Williams. "The best way to truly enjoy holidays with young children is to be realistic about what's likely to make them reasonably content.
"For all but the most adventurous, this probably involves food your children will eat, a temperate climate, comfortable sleeping arrangements, a reasonable travel time and plenty of outdoorsy possibilities - in the hope that an early night for them means a couple of hours off for you."