After the last few years of disruption with Covid, many families are heading off on their holidays this year for the first time in a while. It can often be an unsettling time for children and a stressful time for parents in the run-up to getting away, as well as all the adjustments needed when you finally get there.

Expectations can run very high about how the holiday will be. If you are the ‘default parent’ which is very often the Mum, it might feel like you are the centre of the universe with all the organising, booking, packing and answering 1000 questions. It might also feel like the ‘success’ of the holiday is on your shoulders. This can add to a real sense of pressure, just at a time you might have hoped to be relaxing.

If your child has a disability, medical needs or neurodiversity, and there is suddenly a much longer list of things to remember the default parent. The equipment. Getting the medicines through customs. Checking the place you’re going to will be suitable. Answering all the questions from anxious children and unprepared partners. Researching the destination. Making the bookings. Printing out the tickets. Washing the clothes to take away. Sorting out pet care. Trying not to leave the house in a mess before you go. Checking the holiday insurance. Phewee! No wonder it feels so hectic trying to get away.

Children’s nervous systems are often very heightened at holiday time, be that anxiety or excitement. It creates a perfect storm when as parents we might be highly activated too. Add in the aspects of grappling with affordability, juggling the needs of different family members and being exhausted – and you have the perfect conditions for a storm.

A few things that can help:

  • Lowering your own expectations
  • Regulate your nervous system regularly with breathing and in-the-moment strategies
  • Take a helicopter view about what’s important in this moment
  • Check-in with yourself about what you need right now
  • Expect a few bumps in the road
  • Build some downtime into each day if your children need it
  • If you are with other people on your holiday, don’t be afraid to let them know what you need for you and your family to have a comfortable holiday
  • Reflect at the end of the day on something that went well however small
  • Embrace a fun and free spirit – have the ice cream, splash in the sea, build a sandcastle
  • Kids seem to always remember the small things, like when they were allowed 2 flakes in their ice cream!

And remember, all families have their ups and downs. It’s quite normal for holidays to have stressful moments. As the default parent it can feel like the responsibility lies with you for everyone to have a good time. But actually, all you can be responsible for is your own attitude to the holiday. That is enough.

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