Holidays are actually great for your kids, according to science
No matter how far from home, holidays give kids new skills and experiences.
Since so many of us haven't boarded a plane – recreationally, at least – for the guts of two years, sun holidays seem like a distant memory for families.
But with high vaccination rates, few restrictions and global travel on the upswing again, many more families will be gearing up for trips abroad this Easter break or summer.
Whether you're planning to take your kids on a holiday overseas or on Irish shores, science says the experience itself is gift enough.
According to research, exposing your kids to new locations and experiences they don't meet in their day-to-day lives can give them a wealth of benefits.
A study from the University of Toronto found that experiences like holidays were far more connecting, prosocial and beneficial to children than any material possession.
"The reason experiential gifts are more socially connecting is that they tend to be more emotionally evocative," says Cindy Chan, the study's lead researcher.
"An experiential gift elicits a strong emotional response when a recipient consumes it – like the fear and awe of a safari adventure, the excitement of a rock concert or the calmness of a spa – and is more intensely emotional than a material possession."
But it's not just emotional bonding time that holidays have to offer. The change of scenery can actually make kids smarter.
"An 'enriched' environment offers new experiences that are strong in combined social, physical, cognitive and sensory interaction," Dr. Margot Sunderland, a child psychotherapist and Director of Education and Training at The Centre for Child Mental Health, writes in the Telegraph.
"If you are choosing between buying your child a tablet or taking them on a family holiday, consider the profound effects on bonding and brain development; there is no competition."
Plenty of holiday activities, from building sandcastles to visiting zoos or aquariums to sightseeing historical and geographical landmarks, aid in children's cognitive development and frontal lobe growth. A study on 'Poverty, Social Exclusion and Holidaying' in Ireland found that child-centred holidays "broadened children’s social horizons" and "created opportunities to learn and acquire new skills."
They also provide opportunities where children and teens can build confidence and self-esteem. Activities generally allow for risks – like those involved in climbing or water sports – to be taken in a controlled environment.
This gives children the thrilling chance to test and challenge themselves safely, as well as to develop risk assessment skills. They'll then be able to make better choices when it comes to future risky situations in which peer pressure is present.
With confidence and self-esteem comes greater independence. Holidays also provide children with more responsibilities, like bag packing, minding their belongings and budgeting pocket/gifted money.
On top of all that though, they're just really fun.
Not only do holidays provide a break from the stresses of school or social circles, they keep kids active. Most holidays have your kid running about, walking/hiking more than usual, swimming and more. The regular exercise that often comes with being on holiday stimulate the release of neurochemicals like oxytocin and dopamine – i.e., the 'feel good' chemicals in our brain.
"They reduce stress and activate warm, generous feelings towards each other and a lovely sense that all is well in the world," says Dr. Sunderland. "With all the anti-stress aspects of these systems firing, family members get to emotionally refuel."
So whether you're pre-planning for whenever you can return to the skies, packing your bags for another county, or prepping a staycation of day trips from the house, you can be guaranteed you're giving your kids wonderful skills and memories that will last long after their holiday is finished.