What You Need to Know Before Going on Vacation with Another Family

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What You Need to Know Before Going on Vacation with Another Family

Going on vacation with another family is a fun way for friends to create lifelong bonds between their children. For kids there’s nothing more fun than having more kids to play with, and for parents it’s a relief to be with people who are in the same boat as you. But getting a group of little ones together comes with its share of stressors. We chatted with Michelle Felder, founder and CEO of Parenting Pathfinders, to get some advice for how to handle these types of group vacations. She is an expert on children’s social and emotional development, having worked as a licensed clinical social worker, play therapist and parenting counselor. Read on for her tips on how to prepare for your trip, and her advice on what to do once you’re there.

Q: The days leading up to a vacation can be very emotional for little kids — they are so excited to play, be in a new environment, and participate in fun activities. What kind of conversations should parents have with their children to prepare them for how much time they are about to spend with the other families and, specifically, other kids?

A: Before any big trip, give kids plenty of time to let the newness that lies ahead sink in. You can use a calendar to show kids how many days there are until your trip and then how many days you’ll be on vacation. For young kids, it can be helpful to talk about time in terms of how many sleeps they’ll have – if they’ll be on vacation for a week, let them know that they’ll be there for 6 sleeps. If you have pictures of the place you’ll be staying, show these to kids too; as much as they can visualize where they’ll be, the more prepared they’ll be when the time comes. 

Vacationing with another family means spending lots of time together, so be sure to communicate this to kids. Comparing it to school can be helpful, like talking about how you’ll share meals and do activities together. Depending on the different ages of the kids that will be there, you may need to also prepare your child for different developmentally appropriate behaviors they may experience (e.g. babies crying or spitting up, toddlers having big feelings or learning how to take turns).  And if the children don’t already know each other, schedule a playdate ahead of time – a little familiarity can go a long way with helping kids feel more comfortable. 

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Q: Do you have any tips for parents in terms of packing for this kind of trip when it comes to toys, games, books, etc? Do you recommend bringing little gifts for the other kids?

A: When it comes to packing, aside from the essentials, I think that kids should bring one or two things from the 3 categories below. Something that’s…

  • comforting
  • just for them
  • fun to share 

Bring a basket or a bin for the kids to put all the shared toys in, and keep the things they brought for themselves someplace separate. Think through with your child which toys they’ll share and try to bring ones that encourage cooperation rather than competition. 

When it comes to buying or making a gift, all the grownups would need to agree to participate in a gift exchange ahead of time. That can be a fun and super sweet activity to do the first night you’re together. 

Q: Once the kids begin to play with each other it’s only a matter of time before the arguing begins. What advice do you have for parents on how to deal with conflict? Should they get involved or let the kids work it out themselves?

A: Try to get ahead of the arguing by equipping kids with strategies to help them resolve problems if they arise. Talk through what they can do if there is a conflict and give kids some age-appropriate tools that they can use in the moment. Here are 7 ways kids can solve a problem on their own: 

  • talk about it
  • ignore it
  • walk away
  • use their words
  • compromise 
  • try to do something different
  • get a grownup to help

Showing kids that there are many ways for them to solve problems can help them to feel more confident tackling these conflicts on their own. Give them a chance to work things out, and if you do need to step in, offer suggestions and encourage them to keep trying to find a solution instead of swooping in and solving their problem for them. 

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Q: And what about sharing? Can you offer any advice on how parents can manage that aspect of playing?

A: I’ve found that authentic generosity isn’t learned from forced sharing. Oftentimes when grownups tell kids that they have to share, while they have good intentions, what actually ends up happening is that it becomes a negative experience. Instead, help them to see someone else’s perspective. If someone wants a turn with a toy they’re using, it can be helpful to narrate what’s happening. You could say, “Your friend wants the toy that you’re playing with. Please let her know when you’re done so that she can have a turn.”

Children learn the benefits of sharing by experiencing it. Model sharing and make cooperation a value that’s present in the environment. You could say, “Look at this book their mom shared with me. I’m so happy that she thought of me. I can’t wait to read it.” Be intentional about setting the tone you want to be present on your vacation. 

Q: Do you have any tips for how parents can continue implementing their rules and philosophies amidst other families who go about things differently? What about when their kids say things like, “but so-and-so doesn’t have to do/eat that”?

A: Stay true to yourself and the approach that you believe works best for your child. Consistency is key. When kids are in a new environment and outside of their routine, knowing that the rules and expectations are the same can be incredibly comforting.  

Before families go on vacation together it’s essential that they spend time thinking about what elements of your parenting rhythm you’re willing to compromise and what’s nonnegotiable. Getting on the same page ahead of the trip can save lots of uncomfortable feelings and time sorting through issues. It’s ok if your ideas conflict, just be sure to come up with a consistent approach that everyone will use during your time together. 

If your child points out that there are different expectations for some of the children, here are 3 things you could say: 

  • “You’re noticing a difference in what they get to do and what you get to do. Every family is different and does what they think is best for their child.” 
  • “Their parents make rules for them and your parents make rules for you. Sometimes they’re the same and sometimes they’re different.”
  • “It can be hard to see your friend able to do something that you can’t. I get it, love.” 
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Q: What advice do you have when it comes to dealing with differing parenting styles within the group? 

A: It’s okay for parents to do things differently! Having different approaches doesn’t make one of you a better or worse parent, just a different one. Avoid judging their parenting or your own — you’re all just doing what you think is best for your child in the moment. If another parent points out differences in your approach to parenting in a way that feels critical, you could try one of these 4 responses: 

  • “Don’t worry, I’ve got this.” 
  • “Thanks, but we’re good.” 
  • “This is how I do things.” 
  • “I value what you have to say, but your opinion isn’t helpful in this moment.” 

Whatever you choose to say, be sure to then move on and keep the focus on your child.

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There can be a lot of excitement and nervousness leading up to going on a vacation with another family. And even more emotions once you get there. However your child is feeling about this experience is ok, just be sure to check in with them. Creating the space for them to talk about their feelings is key. 


Michelle Felder is the Founder and CEO of Parenting Pathfinders, an online counseling service for parents and caregivers to support them along the journey of raising children.​ A licensed clinical social worker, play therapist and parenting counselor, she is also an adjunct lecturer at the Silver School of Social Work at New York University, the director of elementary school social work at a Community Roots Charter School, and a facilitator of family workshops through Roots Connected, Inc.  She received her bachelor’s degree in psychology with a minor in cognitive science from Georgetown University; her master’s in social work from New York University; and a master’s in child development from Sarah Lawrence College. Michelle’s work is rooted in mindfulness and builds upon each person’s strengths. 

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