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Why you should never take your kids on a holiday overseas

Why you should never take your kids on a holiday overseas
Are holidays abroad really what children want, or need? Dr Oliver James, a leading British child psychologist, argues for exactly the opposite approach to family vacations. Photo: iStock

Why you should never take your kids on a holiday overseas

LONDON — As a parent, you may want every holiday to be a new adventure for your child — but your kids almost certainly do not, according to one of Britain’s leading child psychologists.

“Consistency is all when they are small,” said Dr Oliver James. “In holidays, as in every other respect.”

Earlier this year, family adventures such as horse riding in Andalusia and climbing Mount Vesuvius were tipped to be among the biggest travel trends of the summer.

But are they really what children want, or indeed, need? Dr James argues for exactly the opposite approach to family holidays.

“Home-based holidays are what most children really want,” he said. By that, he means one familiar, unadventurous place to which you return year after year.

“We went on holiday to Cornwall every August for nine years when my children were small,” he explained. “We would sit on the beach being stoic and saying: ‘Well, alright, so it’s raining. But look on the bright side, at least it’s not very windy…’”

After nearly a decade, he decided to take a stand, and booked a holiday to France. “My kids were eight and 11,” he recalled. “The oldest was just old enough to appreciate the novelty of it all: The way that French cheese, street markets, and even the sun-cream seem different. My youngest was unimpressed. And the next year, both of them insisted we go back to Cornwall. They’re 12 and 15 now, and we still go back to the same place every summer.”

That is because, he explained, children’s pleasures remain really very simple until they hit their teens. So until the age of five, your tiny traveller is not equipped to enjoy the strange smells of a Moroccan souk, or the awesome sights and sounds of a Peruvian rainforest.

Instead, said Dr Oliver, what they want is “a reasonably warm, but not too hot, beach with calm waves, and ice cream nearby”.

If anything, that child gets more conservative as she gets older. Children, explained Dr James, are surprisingly nostalgic creatures, despite their tender years. “Between the ages of five and 10, they can become very attached to one place, where they can be sure of what they will like and what they won’t,” he said. “Sitting on the same donkey, eating the same ice cream at the same cafe ... These familiar places and activities are the ones that forge their happiest memories.”

It is not until the teenage years, he said, that we start to find novelty exciting and attractive. Even then, “children are now under so many pressures that the associations of one particular place, where they know they can return and be free of those (pressures), can be very positive”.

So perhaps we are wrong — although well-intentioned — to view family holidays as an opportunity to introduce children to new horizons.

“There is so much change in children’s lives today,” said Dr Oliver. “We move schools and houses, we experience countless new things. A familiar, recurring holiday spot can sometimes be the only anchored thing in a child’s life — a safe and predictable place in a shifting universe.” THE TELEGRAPH