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Column Top tips for parents to avoid a holiday from hell this summer

They may be the apple of your eye but a break from the little darlings might just be the best part of your holiday, writes Shane Dunphy.

PERHAPS YOU HAVE spent the whole year looking forward to your summer holiday, you sit in work and picture yourself basking in the sun on a Mediterranean beach, cocktail in hand. 

Or maybe, thoughts of two weeks in a resort with the kids fills you with a feeling of dread  – you are still haunted by memories of the time the youngest got sunstroke. 

Whether it is the heat, the flight, the food or just being out of their usual routine, it is commonplace for children, especially the little ones, to play up while on holiday.

But if you take the following tips into account you can reduce the chances of your family having an all-out ‘holiday from hell’.

Plan ahead

Arriving after a long flight during which your youngest screamed for an hour-and-a-half, followed by a bus transfer when the nine-year-old threw up all over the old lady in the seat across the aisle, your nerves are already shot.  

You dump the bags in the apartment and suddenly realise you have no idea what to do next.

It’s evening so the pool, which you had intended to be the main source of entertainment, is closed. You feel a rising panic – one that could so easily have been avoided.

Even a last-minute booking should allow you enough time to do some internet trawling and buy a Lonely Planet travel guide. Find out as much as you can about where you’re going and what kind of activities and attractions are going to be available.

Discuss a plan for the time you’re away with your children, if they feel a sense of ownership over the holiday, they are likely to be a lot more co-operative.

A general itinerary takes a lot of the pressure off you and you can decide on a mix of activities that will cater to adults and children alike – some give and take is extremely important.  

And remember that, while on holidays, the little ones are likely to stay up a bit later than when they’re at home so work some evening activities into your schedule. 

Kid’s club

They may be the apple of your eye and the reason you get up in the morning, but let’s be honest, a couple of hours break from the little darlings each day might just be the best part of your holiday.

Many hotels and apartment complexes operate kids clubs but you should never rush into placing your children in the care of strangers.

A few questions to your travel agent, and perhaps a series of phone calls to the tour operator before you leave will help inform you as to whether you are being offered a reputable service.

To put it simply, a kid’s club and a hotel babysitting service should meet the same standards of staff qualification, police checks, health, safety and hygiene as the crèche back home.

Many holiday operators insist on international standards of qualification and inspection of their clubs.

Put your mind at ease and ensure that your children are being supervised and entertained appropriately. 

A good kid’s club can make their holiday really special and give you some much-needed quality time together.

But if you feel in any way uneasy about the club at your hotel, don’t use it.

Pool protocol

We’ve all sat by the pool and watched that kid who appears to be three struggling around, way out of their depth and buoyed up by half-inflated arm-bands, being supervised, in the loosest definition of the word, by a slightly older sibling.  

Don’t be the parent who sticks their nose into the Lee Child novel they picked up at the airport and lets their kids (high on Coke and ice-cream) run wild about the pool area.  

The accepted wisdom that a child can drown in a couple of inches of water is wisdom indeed and hyperactive, dangerously behaved children are both annoying and alarming for everyone else.

Also, be mindful of the added danger from that most awful of combinations – the hot, Mediterranean sun blazing down on pale, western European skin. 

Are you making sure your brood is regularly topped up with sunscreen?

A badly sunburnt child can effectively ruin the holiday for the whole family and is surely best avoided.

Don’t assume someone else is keeping an eye on your children. Set some basic ground rules with them on your first day – they should stay close to your sun-lounger, in case you need to call them.

If they are weak swimmers, or cannot swim at all, they should remain in the shallow end or use the kiddie’s pool.

In sunny climes, hats are not just fashion statements, they are essentials. Make sure you all have one.

Hydration and Nutrition

You’ve gone to the market and little Jimmy has spent most of the morning whinging. You’ve bought him the giant transformer that he wanted, but he still seems uncharacteristically contrary.  

You think (not for the first time this holiday) that you really need a drink. Has it occurred to you that little Jimmy might need one too?

Dehydration can make you feel tired and ill so if the children start getting grumpy this could well be the cause.

Keep them drinking. Have a bottle of water with you at all times and insist that everyone sips some regularly.

Believe it or not, room temperature is best, as very cold water taken when the body temperature is raised can cause an upset stomach, so don’t be too concerned if the water you are carrying gets a bit warm.

And while we’re on the subject, a common cause of upset tummies while on holiday is the misuse of hotel buffets.

There is a simple rule to prevent such discomfort: a buffet should be treated in the same way as a menu.

In a restaurant, you wouldn’t eat your dessert first, nor would you combine spaghetti bolognese with fish and chips for your main course – yet we are tempted to do things like that when a buffet is presented to us.

Get the kids to choose a sensible starter, main course and dessert and they will feel much better afterwards.

Enjoying the nightlife

While Granny may have claimed she was happy to come along as babysitter for the entire holiday, don’t be surprised if she makes some new friends or cops off with the barman shortly after you arrive and is suddenly otherwise engaged.

Most holiday destinations are very relaxed about children being out with their parents at night and will even provide entertainment for the whole family until quite late.

Bedtimes usually become very loose while on holiday and there is nothing wrong with that. But some basic safety procedures do need to be implemented.

If you are planning on having a few drinks, one adult needs to remain sober to ensure the children are okay – think of it as the designated child-minder.

That means that one or two sangrias should be the cut-off point after which soft-drinks are the beverage of choice.

Take turns in the babysitter role so that each of you gets the chance to let off some steam.

If you wish to go on to nightclubs or late bars with friends then the designated child-minder should take the children back to the apartment and stay there with them. 

Stick to these tips to ensure the whole family has a fun, sunny, safe holiday. 

Shane Dunphy is a child protection expert and author.  He is Head of the Social Care Department at Waterford College of Further Education. 

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