Taking young kids on vacation and contending with tantrums, sleep routines in a foreign location, getting through airport security may not always sound like fun and relaxation. Should you invest the time, effort and money to do this? Here are 5 fundamental reasons why you absolutely should:
1. Makes children smarter and happier!
Brain research suggests that activities that occur when you go on vacation can improve cognitive functioning, social intelligence and goal directed behaviour. This research is based work by Professor Jaak Panksepp, a leading neurocientist. If you want to find out more about the science you can read it here.
There are at least seven basic emotional systems – SEEKING, RAGE, FEAR, LUST, CARE, GRIEF, and PLAY. SEEKING and PLAY are both positive emotions that can be ‘aroused’ with certain activities. Electrical stimulation of specific regions of the brain serve as “rewards” when positive-emotions are aroused.
The SEEKING system (also known as the brain reward system) is a motivational brain pathway that is needed for survival. It involves exploration of your surroundings and anticipatory excitement. When this part of the system is aroused, it fills the mind with interest and motivates search for the things you ‘need, crave, and desire’. It promotes brain functions related to planning and foresight. When you go exploring on holiday, whether it be the area you are staying, the the theme parks, nature walks or the beach, it activates this system. Activation of the SEEKING system results in development and maturation of the parts of the brain involved in cognitive functioning, social intelligence, and goal-directed behaviors.
The other system engaged during vacation time is PLAY. Children have strong urges for rough physical play such as running, chasing and hitting. These actions are associated with an intense sense of joy. By doing this, children learn social rules and higher social functions.
Family holidays provides the environment and physical activities that can can activate these systems and trigger brain chemicals that reduce stress and make children feel happy and positive. It is thought that the more that these systems are used, the more likely they are to become more ingrained as personality traits. It is also thought that mental health disorders such as depression are less likely to occur.
2. Serves as happiness anchors
During times of stress and anxiety, a memory such as a family holiday can function as a ‘happiness anchor’. A study by the Family Holiday Association showed that close to half of all adults have a family vacation as their happiest memory.
“Reflecting on our happiest memories of joyful time spent together as a family can be extremely powerful in bringing relief and respite when faced with the darker times that life can bring. By using these memories as an anchor to take us back to more cheerful moments, we’re often able to approach problems with a fresh sense of perspective. But for many without such memories, reigniting a sense of optimism for getting through the tougher times can seem like an impossible task.”
John McDonald, Director of the Family Holiday Association
Make the time for these special memories. You and your children will remember them for a long time!
3. Bonding with parents
In our modern lives where both parents have to work to pay the bills, child rearing is often outsourced. Children are looked after in daycare for long periods or in after school programs. There is not much time spent together between parent and child. You may spend a few minutes at the end of a busy day and that is it. Even when there is more time spent, either the parent is stressed about some work issue, or the child has some stress related to school or preschool.
Holidays are are period in the year were you spend relaxed time with your kids. It is a crucial for all of you to de-stress, and bond in a relaxed atmosphere. A 2013 UNICEF report on child happiness found that Dutch children were the happiest kids on the planet. Some of the things that they did differently from other predominantly English speaking western societies is that they spent considerably more time with both parents, they ate meals together, and they did less homework. Even if you can’t emulate this every day of the year, you could try whilst on holiday, and plan to take regular breaks away together.
4. Understanding of other cultures and languages
The world is a rich diverse place with many cultures, religions, colors, and languages. Having a ‘global mindset’ is a crucial skill to develop early so that your child develops cultural sensitivity and the skills to work in culturally diverse environments as they grow into adults. Developing these skills early in life is much easier than as an adult.
Traveling to foreign lands and exposing kids to common, everyday things such as children going to school, people working, socializing and worshiping are incredibly beneficial experiences. They will learn appreciation of other cultures, and realize that as humans we are all very similar but also different. It will help prevent prejudices and boosts self awareness. It may inspire them to learn more about are area or country you have just visited, or motivate them to learn a new language.
5. Patience, adaptability and real world problem solving
The stress and chaos of getting through immigration and security are good things for children, really! They will learn about waiting around in airports and in ques. I.e. It teaches them patience. They can see first hand how to juggle multiple pieces of luggage and children through security. Minor travel disasters such as lost luggage or your transport providers falling through can provide valuable learning experiences. Get them to help figure out what and how to do things to solve the problem such as organizing alternative transport. This shows them how to adapt and can cope in stressful situations and teaches them real world problem solving.
Go on, travel!
Invest the time and money to go on vacation with your children. The memories last a lifetime. The memories created provide the foundations for ‘happiness’, family bonds, and at the same time help improve multiple levels of brain functioning. Travel makes children more culturally adept, teaches them patience and helps develop real world problem solving skills. What are you waiting for? go on and book your next vacation.