The science behind why you should never take your children on foreign holidays – Telegraph.co.uk
As a parent you may want every holiday to be a new adventure – but your kids almost certainly do not, according a one of Britain’s leading child psychologists.
“Consistency is all when they’re small,” says Oliver James. “In holidays as in every other respect.”
Earlier this year family adventures like horse-riding in Andalusía 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 says. 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 while my children were small,” he explains. “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 recalls. “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 seems 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 explains, 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, says 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, explains 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 says. “Sitting on the same donkey, eating the same ice cream at the same café… These familiar places and activities are the ones that forge their happiest memories.”
It is not until the teenage years, he says, 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 from those, can be very powerful and positive.”
So perhaps we are wrong – though 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,” says 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.”