Mission Possible: Successful Family Vacations
Successful Family Vacations
Vacations can be wonderful times, providing opportunities for family members to strengthen their relationships through shared experiences. Vacations can also be challenging times for families that include children with special needs. In this article, we will share tactics and maneuvers to make family vacations more enjoyable for everyone. We will provide ideas through a road trip and family reunion (R&R) example for Liam and family, but the following steps can be used to plan any vacation.
Determine what you would like to do as a family during your vacation. Be positive, outlining the goals would you would like to achieve if everything goes as well as possible.
- Goals for the Road Trip to the Reunion for Liam and Family
- Travel through four states to spend time with extended family
- Enjoy the ride, rather than just making good time on the trip
- Create positive memories and further strengthen relationships
Gather as much information possible about the upcoming vacation to facilitate action planning. This reconnaissance can be done by considering previous experiences with similar vacations, asking other people who will be present or have traveled to the same place, or visiting sites on the internet to see descriptions, maps, and pictures. Ask yourself the following questions:
When: On what dates will we leave and return? How long will we be gone? What are the timelines for each of the activities? How much down time will there be?
Where: What places will we be visiting? What forms of transportation will we use? Where will we sleep and eat? What is the environment like in each of the places?
Who: With whom will we be interacting? Will the people be familiar or unfamiliar? What are their characteristics? How many people will be present in each activity?
What: In what types of activities will we be participating? For example, will they be indoor or outdoor? Active or passive?
Plan of Attack
Make arrangements and organize accommodations to make each activity as successful as possible. Consider the resources and potential risks associated with each setting. Your plan of attack may involve creative scheduling (e.g., alternating boring activities with those that are more enjoyable, establishing time limits based on the child’s needs), packing familiar and preferred items, requesting environmental modifications, and orienting the people with whom you will be coming in contact. It also may involve practicing skills with your child that will allow him or her to participate fully in activities, interact appropriately, and cope with particularly challenging circumstances.
R&R: Stock car with various toys, games, videos, and equipment for playing at the rest stops. Plan games and sing along activities, ensuring a variety of options. Pack snacks and picnic items for trip so dining in restaurants is not always necessary. Arrange for hotels with swimming pools and separate sleeping area. Investigate handicapped/disabled parking and facilities at park. Ask Grandma and Aunt Judy to stock up on preferred foods and to keep sweets out of sight, as well as to keep pets separate. Encourage familiar relatives to serve as “guides”, encouraging others to follow Liam’s lead and limit questions. Practice greeting and conversational exchanges. Post the itinerary on the wall calendar, reviewing it with Liam.
When the vacation is underway, try to stick to your plan, but also be prepared to modify your approach based on the circumstances. You may have to engage in ongoing problem solving as new situations arise – expect the unexpected. Provide support by explaining upcoming activities and expectations (e.g., using pictures or gestures if needed) and rewarding your child’s successes with praise and special activities or treats.
R&R: Make sure Liam has a healthy breakfast and can use the potty each morning. Drive no more than 6 hours per day, taking brief breaks approximately every 90 minutes. Switch between activities every 15-20 minutes while in car and “get physical” at rest stops. Use social stories to prepare for hotels, restaurants, family homes, and museum. Prompt relatives how to interact positively with Liam. Arrange for stable, comfortable seating with Liam’s back to the crowd to allow for personal space.
Regrouping or Retreating
Even when planning is flawless, difficulties can arise during vacations that require a major shift in approach or retreat from the circumstances. It is important to have a back-up plan if your child (or you) gets stressed, making fun impossible. In these situations, help your child to signal that the situation is too hard with a word or gesture and allow a break from the situation.
R&R: Teach Liam to say, “I’m tired” or “I’m bored” if he appears stressed and respond to body language, changing activities or allowing him an opportunity to get away from groups of people. Avoid loud noises such as yelling and fireworks. Change clothes quickly following water play (since Liam hates being in wet clothes). Delay driving when raining heavily.
Following each activity during the vacation, identify what went well – taking stock in your successful experiences. At the end of the vacation, celebrate, knowing that you have created more positive memories for your family. Document successes with pictures for future use in building language and anticipating additional successful trips.
Meme Hieneman, has a Ph.D. in Special Education and is nationally certified as a behavior analyst. She has published a variety of articles, chapters, and books including “Parenting with Positive Behavior Support: A Practical Guide to Resolving Your Child’s Difficult Behavior.” In her professional career, Meme has worked with children with severe behavior problems for more than 20 years.
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This post originally appeared on our May/June 2015 Magazine