Why do children feel the need to misbehave when you go away on holiday? Child psychologist Dr Richard Woolfson explains your toddler's change in behaviour.
Family holidays - one of the reasons they're so much fun is because they provide a break from your routine. There’s less pressure, fewer demands to make schedules and more self-indulgence. So you’d probably expect your toddler to be well behaved – after all, he has as much to gain from holidays as everyone else in the family. Yet the exact opposite often happens and toddler behaviour usually gets worse on holiday, not better.
In most instances, rapid change unsettles young children. Your toddler likes his routine at home, his toys, his bedroom, his cutlery – everything he’s familiar with. Then along comes holiday time and suddenly he’s being rushed through airports, crammed onto public transport and eventually taken to a strange building with a strange bed and strange surroundings.
You’re thinking that the hotel you’ve booked is absolutely wonderful, but your child’s thoughts are, “I’m not sure about this. I’d prefer to be at home.”
Combine the feeling that the family is on a different agenda (mummy and daddy are around at the same time, everyone’s playing all day long) with a lack of familiarity, and that’s why your toddler is less cooperative than you expect.
It’s not that he’s deliberately being disruptive – misbehaviour is his way of showing you that his confidence and wellbeing have temporarily dipped a little. Reassure him with extra attention on the first night. Take his toys along, and you could also play familiar music on your MP3 player when it’s bedtime.
Another reason why holidays can have a negative effect on your toddler’s behaviour is that he thinks: “Great. Mum and dad are behaving differently while we’re here, so I can be as silly as I want too!” In other words, he misinterprets the break as a sign that anything goes.
At least for the first few days, stick to similar times for core activities, such as mealtimes and bedtime. That way while you’re on ‘holiday time’ he’ll feel like there’s enough routine and his behaviour should settle after a few days.
If your toddler is more boisterous or less helpful than usual, resist the temptation to get annoyed or over-discipline. Instead, pick a quieter activity for you both, so he calms down along with you, rather than being told off.
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