With spring break coming up, I have been talking to families about breaks for the kids, how much they should let them sleep, veg out, or make them stay active. Of course the age of your child can make a difference but all in all this should apply to most kids ages 10 and up.

How much should I just let my kid “be” on vacation?

Last year, Laura came in with her two kids and said she was planning a vacation for spring break. She asked about the need to keep a schedule and about “catch up sleep.” She asked if that was really a thing and if so how should she balance time on their iPads and phones to watch shows, play video games, read books but also keep them engaged with the family and being active. She seemed overwhelmed by the prospect of having seven straight days of managing her 11 and 13-year-old kids and the battle she imagined was going to occur.

Laura is not alone in her stress over this, while many parents don’t mind the devices as much during the actual travel time once they get to their actual destination it can become a power struggle to get kids engaged and off their screens. Some parents also discount the stress that kids feel at school to perform at very high standards and how many hours of homework and activities they put into one week. Parents are sometimes keyed in their kid’s anxiety and stress but don’t realize that they need downtime in similar ways that adults do as well. On top of rising and alarming rates of stress, as soon as there is a teenager involved their desire to stay up late and sleep in late becomes an issue parents have to contend with as well.

I decided to actively help Laura and her kids talk through the vacation and get on the same page about what everyone wanted and needed from the spring break. Here is what we discussed that was helpful to them as they traveled as a family for one week.

First, we estimated that each kid was about negative two hours on sleep each school night and that “catch up sleep” though desired by each kid was not the total answer. Sleep experts now say that not even teens can adequately catch up on sleep on weekends and that the 9 hours a night that is optimal should be a goal 7 nights a week.

As a compromise, this family decided to aim for 9 hours a sleep for everyone and that took naps in the middle of the day which is thought to be a better healthy sleep habit. Though their sleep-wake cycle was off, they were in a different time zone and were getting up later, they didn’t allow the kids to sleep 10-12 hours the way they would have if allowed. This seemed to work for them.

Next, the level of activity and what they wanted from the vacation was something that they really discussed ahead of time. The parents wanted to relax and the kids wanted some time to “veg out” but also wanted to explore. They decided on 3 excursions that they would take and planned them for every other day. Everyone seemed content with this idea and when they returned they all reported feeling good about pre-planning the balance of relaxing and exploring.

Last, the parents enforced dinner as tech-free times. They had to physically take the phones after the first dinner so that the kids would stay engaged in conversation. The parents got to enjoy conversations with the kids but also the kids even shared with me that it was “less stressful” on them when the phones were taken away. This isn’t the first time I have heard this. Kids often share with me in confidence that when their phones are taken away it’s easier for them to focus, sleep and talk to their family members.

This family, probably like most others, looked forward to this vacation for months. However, the summer before experienced real disappointment when they found their kids seemed “lazy” and not interested ins pending quality family time. This time, by pre-planning, talking about expectations and compromising ahead of time they all came back rested with just the right amount of activity.

About the author

Sheryl Gonzalez Ziegler, Psy.D. holds a Doctorate of Psychology, is an Author, Speaker, National Media Contributor, Non-Profit Board Member, Girl Scouts Leader, Girls on the Run Coach and Advocate for children. She has been treating children and families for over twenty years with areas of expertise in anxiety, trauma, divorce, stress management and depression. Dr. Ziegler is the author of the best selling book, Mommy Burnout: how to reclaim your life and raise healthier children in the process, the winner of Best Parenting Book of 2018 as awarded by International Latino Book Awards.

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