The summer holidays are beckoning and for many of us that means packing up our suitcases and heading off for a well deserved getaway. If you are the parent of a highly sensitive child (HSC) you may well find the reality of getting away from home for a week or two not as relaxing as you envisioned when you booked your vacation.
You arrive in your holiday accommodation, after a flight, car ride or train trip and much to your dismay find that your HSC is bad-tempered, teary, stressed and uncooperative. It takes hours of tears and protests before your HSC gets to sleep for the first three nights of your holiday. You’re actually more tired than you were when you left home. It’s not what you expected after they showed so much excitement for the trip in the weeks leading up to leaving.
The reason your HSC seems unsettled is because they generally like the familiar, the comfort of home and routine. Going on holiday is like pulling the rug from under them. Their surroundings are completely different to home. Their bed is not their own. The furnishings are not familiar. The water doesn’t taste the same as back ‘home’. The local supermarket does not stock their favourite food. The climate may be different. People speak a different language around them. The streets are unfamiliar. The people around them are strangers.
In short, their safety net just disappeared.
It doesn’t mean they won’t enjoy their holiday. It doesn’t mean you should never venture away from home with a HSC but you should bear in mind that the adjustment to new surroundings may take longer than you expected and your HSC needs your support and security whilst they transition to their new environment.
Remember: If your children are relaxed and happy on vacation, you’ll be relaxed and happy on vacation. There are a few things you can do that to help your HSC adjust to your vacation destination so that everyone gets the break they need over the summer.
When Booking or Planning Your Holiday
- Think about the things that make your HSC uncomfortable. If your child has an issue with heat then a tropical destination is not likely to ensure a fun filled family holiday.
- Consider the effect on your child of holidaying in a significantly different time zone.
- Choose a quiet destination so your HSC is not overloaded with sensory stimuli. It doesn’t mean cutting yourselves off from the world for your entire holiday but choosing somewhere quiet to return to at the end of a busy day of sightseeing can make a huge different to how calm and comfortable your HSC stays whilst away.
- Try to keep disruptions to a minimum whilst away. Planning a different hotel to stay in every other night for two weeks will not generally make for a relaxed HSC.
- Choosing self-catering could make life a lot easier if your HSC is a fussy eater.
- Consider the same destination as a previous year if you had a fabulous time. We stayed in the same place in Cornwall for three summers in a row and plan to go back next year. It’s all very familiar to our children so they are quickly settled, know and trust the owners and some of the other guest so are happy to join in all the activities. They sleep well. They’re happy, we’re relaxed.
Before you Go
- Prepare your HSC for your holiday destination – show pictures where possible, talk about the place you’ll stay, facilities, how it will all look so they have a picture in their mind before they arrive. The more they know the less they have to imagine and worry about.
- Borrow books from the library with your HSC to learn more about the place you are going to – the food, the climate, the sights. Use the internet.
- Let your HSC help you pack their clothes so you can talk through the process of going on holiday and what you will do once you are there. For example, whilst packing a swimming costume talk about the pool that is on the complex you are staying in. Tell your HSC that there is a toddler section to the pool, that there are water slides, that it’s an outdoor pool. Whilst packing flip flops talk about the beach that the hotel is on and what you will do on the beach.
- Make sure you pack their favourite cuddly toy, security blanket, own bedtime pillow, CD, DVD or favourite toy.
- If there are particular things or people that your HSC will miss about home consider taking a photo with you on holiday.
- Take black out blinds with you if your child needs a dark room to sleep in.
- If noise is an issue for your HSC take headphones or earplugs.
- Pack a little bag for on the plane or in the car full of special items for your HSC – favourite snacks, a special book, colouring book, cuddly bear or toy.
- Be sure to have a change of clothes to avoid prolonged upset because of wet sleeves or spilt drinks.
- Carry relaxing sensory toys with you – play dough or stress balls for example.
- Take an mp3 player and headphones with relaxing music or even a children’s meditation recording with you for on the plane.
- Headphones or ear plugs can also be useful whilst travelling, not just in your destination.
Whilst in Your Holiday Destination
- Alternating between a busy day of seeing the sights and a calm day by the pool gives your HSC the chance to process everything they have done and seen and avoid being overwhelmed by sensory input. Schedule activities with rest days built in. Involve your children in the planning.
- Another way to schedule is to plan activities that take up only half a day so the rest of the day is down time for your HSC.
- Try to stick to your HSC’s usual routine whilst away. Keep mealtimes and bedtimes set at the same time. If your HSC has a particular bedtime routine at home then do the same whilst away – a story, a song, a certain order of bedtime activities. Keep it familiar.
- Don’t underestimate the impact of going to bed later than normal, particularly when dealing with a HSC. It’s tempting to let a child stay up later whilst on holiday and whilst a slight slippage may not have an effect, a significant change in sleeping hours will have the same impact as jet lag. A tired HSC is not a happy HSC.
- If you find a restaurant, park or attraction that works for your family why not visit it more than once? Eating regularly in one place for example will help your HSC feel secure.
- Go with the flow. Your HSC wants to wear the same favourite shorts for three days? Fine.
- Get your HSC involved in taking lots of photos, recording moments in a travel journal or keeping a sketchbook with drawings of the things they see. By doing these things you automatically build in calm moments where your HSC stops to focus on one thing.
With a little forward planning, and a little anticipation of how your HSC will react in your holiday destination there is no reason why you can’t have a relaxing, fun family holiday.
Over to You: What tips do you have for holidaying with a HSC?