Oliver James, one of Britain’s leading experts on child psychology, has really understood the effect that travel has on children, and why it is so important to their development. Adults have long regarded holidays as not only a way to relax and get away from the stresses and strains of everyday life, but as a way to learn, build bonds and create life-long memories. Children are no different in this respect, but what stimulates them is distinctive from their parents.
“The first and simplest mistake that an awful lot of parents make is confusing what they find exciting about a holiday with what their children will,” says James. “So many of the ‘interesting’ things about a new place are deathly boring to the vast majority of children—high culture, for example, in almost all forms. So, your child, if at all typical, will grumble at the ghastly business of being dragged round.”
We all remember being dragged kicking and screaming around museums, country houses and places of culture as children, but finding pleasure in the smallest of things around the edges, from Coca Cola coming in a glass bottle on the Continent, to the differing names of chocolate bars. The little things that were interesting to us in our own lives at that moment.
It’s also about spending time with parents and reconnecting, playing, learning, discovering and bonding. This isn’t about packed itineraries and trying to keep them occupied every moment of the day. Instead, the focus of family trips should be on exploration—wandering the streets and discovering things together, from a new-fangled ice cream flavour to a pair of colourful trainers.
So, how do you persuade parents to put children first? In our experience, it’s all about the destination. Find them a city that is equal parts enigmatic, exciting and different—one that both parents and children can explore together for the first time, rather than reliving past memories. Provide a couple of ‘life experiences’ that offer a loose structure to the trip and choose a hotel that is as memorable as it is beautiful, with staff that will enable children to relax into their environment and allow them to laugh, run and play. Faced with such an engaging family experience, they’ll create memories that will last a lifetime.