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Relax the rules; let kids have a say

February 04, 2007|Diana Dawson | Special to The Times

WHENEVER our family vacation looms on the horizon, all of that quality bonding time looks a bit daunting. How can the same trip be wonderful for people with different needs and interests, especially when they're wedged into tight quarters and spending more time than usual together?

1. Abandon traditional hierarchy

Make family travel a joint adventure. Planning should not come just from the top, says Annie Fox, educator and co-author of "Too Stressed to Think." She advocates that every member of the family be allowed to decide what the group will do for part of each day, exposing everyone to different adventures.

2. Travel as a team

"Respect the idea that we don't have a lot of physical space from one another when we're traveling together," Fox says. "but we do need psychic space." Family members need to give one another a little breathing room.

3. Remember the big picture

California child psychologist Don MacMannis emphasizes family growth as the goal for the trip. "Consider making learning, loving and living in the moment your highest priority rather than getting to a particular destination," he says.

4. Plan for variety

Don't impose a restful beach retreat on your children when they want to bungee jump. And don't let them just bask by the pool when there's a new culture to explore. Fox suggests taking public transportation and shopping in local markets to give your children a real feel for any place.

"[If ] you go to a resort and stay behind its walls, you could have been anywhere," she says. "You want your children to come back with the knowledge that the world is bigger than their school and their neighborhood."

5. Let your trip have balance

Children and spouses can feel bullied if there are ironclad must-see lists, says Thomas Greenspon, author of "Freeing Our Families From Perfectionism." Negotiate what's important to each person and what can be dumped as travelers become weary.

6. Find balance within every day

Be aware of children's energy levels, Fox says, and schedule time for snacks and rest. Kids need structure when it comes to meal times and bedtimes.

7. Plan outlets for relaxation

The pros say that the family togetherness on vacation demands some individual relaxation, whether that's with a Game Boy, a book or an evening out for the parents.

8. Share appreciation and praise

Families do best when everyone feels appreciated, MacMannis says. Take time to praise your kids for the good things -- aim for a 5-1 ratio of positive to negative statements.

9. Keep a family travel journal

At the end of every travel day, Fox would take dictation from each family member about his or her most memorable moment; the family still reminisces over those journals.

10. Chill out as a parent

You're still in charge and everyone knows that, but you're on vacation too. "Lighten up, parents," Fox says. "Chill. Enjoy."

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