Our family spent the Fourth of July week camping at a gorgeous alpine lake in the Sierra Nevada Mountains. As I watched my kids and their friends venture onto the lake to far away secret coves on paddle boards and kayaks, an enthusiastic flotilla, Independence Day took on new meaning. Until recently, family vacations meant constant vigilance and my husband and I participating in most activities. It is beautiful (and yes, slightly heartbreaking) to see our kids becoming more independent and responsible for themselves. Of course, this comes naturally in time, but there are ways to foster independence in our children as we travel. Here are a few that we have tried over the years.
Got Your Backpack? Once a child is walking, I like everyone to be responsible for their own small backpack. I consider this a portable toy chest and have the kids pack their own toys, games, books, magazines, art supplies and stuffed animals. They are responsible for this backpack for the entire trip. Just make sure to give them a relatively small pack because like that law of physics (don’t ask me which one!) their belongings will expand to fill the space allowed!
Solo Expeditions OK, this is more dramatic sounding than what it really is. For our family, it often looks like this—Hand the kids a few dollars in local currency and send them around the corner to buy themselves ice cream cones and return with the change. Or if you’re having a lovely dinner in the piazza, send the kids off to play within eyesight and enjoy your wine or espresso in peace. Basically, if you can send your kids on small errands or outings on their own, this is a great way for them to develop independence. (My husband and I may or may not have followed them like spies at first—just don’t get caught if you do this!)
Use Your Voice Sometimes on vacation, one or both parents take on the role of family spokesperson, especially if foreign languages are involved. However, resist answering questions that your kids can answer for themselves. Let them order their own meals, answer questions addressed to them, and participate in conversations whenever appropriate. If they want to buy a souvenir, let them conduct the transaction.
Kids Only Activities At an all-inclusive resort with a great kids club, this is kind of a no-brainer. But even if you are not at a hotel with organized child care, there are often local day camps for children on vacation that will be fun for the kids and help them create their own independent memories of the trip–and give the adults a nice break, too. Check this one out in Italy!
Siesta! I love the idea of taking an hour so out of each day for everyone to relax or play on their own. Parents can rest or get some work done and the kids entertain themselves. Remember that backpack?
Here’s to many happy Independence Days on your future vacations! And if none of these seem to fit for you right now, who cares?! Go have a great trip anyway. Where can I help you go?