Giving Age-Appropriate Freedoms on Vacation

Lisa Fritscher March 1, 2015 No Comments

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One of the hardest tasks for many parents is figuring out exactly how much freedom is appropriate at various ages.
photo by J. Michel Carriere

Although vacations are a time to relax and have fun, your job as a parent never stops. One of the hardest tasks for many parents is figuring out exactly how much freedom is appropriate at various ages. In unfamiliar locations such as vacation destinations, it is easy to err on the side of caution, keeping your kids on a short leash to ensure their safety. At the opposite end of the spectrum, some parents allow too much freedom, which can lead to situations that the kids are not ready to handle on their own.

Low-Stakes Decisions

The buddy system is an especially good idea for preteens, but works well at all ages.

On vacation, you are not likely to see anyone you know. You are away from pressure and responsibilities, and so are your kids. Does it really matter if your child’s clothes match or if he eats ice cream for dinner one night? This is a great time to let even very young children practice making low-stakes decisions on their own.

From staying up late and being tired the next day to missing mini-golf night due to a sugar-induced stomach ache, kids learn best through experience. As long as you provide safe parameters, letting your kids take responsibility for relatively unimportant decisions helps them understand cause and effect.

The Buddy System

The buddy system opens up endless possibilities for expanding your kids’ freedom.
photo by Sharyn Morrow

If you have multiple kids, enforce a rule that no one goes anywhere without at least one sibling along. If you have only one child, consider inviting a friend whenever possible and insist that the kids stick together. The buddy system opens up endless possibilities for expanding your kids’ freedom.

If you trust your older kids or other adults in your group, encourage them to take even very little ones along sometimes. This exposes the younger child to other people’s rules, expectations and ways of doing things, while encouraging older kids to step up to a new level of responsibility.

By upper elementary school, most kids are ready to start ranging further with a same-age sibling or friend. Start small, by letting the kids go to the hotel arcade for an hour or ride an amusement park attraction without you. If they prove their responsibility, gradually increase the time span and range.

Middle schoolers are typically fine with the buddy system, even for several hours at a time, and most are equally self-sufficient even without a buddy. As long as you feel the situation is safe, resist the urge to keep a tight leash on an only child. Whether or not your kid has a buddy, set ground rules for checking in and for which locations are off-limits. Make sure they have a cell phone and ask them to call or text at regular intervals. Review how to get to wherever they are going, such as the hotel pool or a particular section of a theme park, and ask them to repeat it back to you before they leave. Of course, no one should ever swim alone. If your child goes to the pool without a buddy, insist that she swim only when plenty of other people are around.

By high school, the average teenager is highly self-sufficient. Many parents feel comfortable letting high school students roam independently on vacation, as long as they check in regularly. Use your judgment and common sense, and always make sure your teen has a cell phone and emergency money.

Breaking the Rules
Of course, kids test limits all the time, and vacation is no exception. Before giving your child freedom, clearly state your expectations and the consequences for not living up to them. Make sure that your proposed punishment is fair, reasonable to the situation, and easy to implement while on vacation. For example, taking away her cell phone also takes away your ability to contact her when necessary.

If your child breaks a rule, clearly and calmly state the infraction and give him a chance to explain. Transportation breaks down, shows run longer than planned and restaurants are sometimes slow. If the explanation seems reasonable, consider giving a warning for not letting you know rather than a full punishment. If you need to implement a consequence, do it calmly and matter-of-factly, and move on as soon as possible. Vacation time is precious, so don’t waste it arguing or holding onto anger.

Giving kids age-appropriate freedoms is challenging for many parents. On vacation, it can be especially tricky. Trust your parenting skills and your own judgment, and be sure to set reasonable parameters along with clearly communicated consequences for breaking the rules.

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Lisa is a full-time travel writer. She lives in an RV with her disabled father and writes about their experiences. Although she has no children of her own, Lisa loves being an Aunt to her own relatives and the children of all her friends. You can follow her adventures on her blog, Travel Confessions.

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