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The family way
7:00am Saturday 21st July 2012 in NewsXtra
As the school summer holidays approach, travel experts give tips on making the most of holidays with kids, so they have a great time and mum and dad get some time to relax too.
By Lisa Salmon.
After months of terrible weather, many British families are desperate to jet off to sunnier climes for their long-awaited summer holiday.
But as parents pack for themselves and the kids, they need to make sure they've planned plenty for everyone to do on holiday - or else mum and dad could find they're forever running around after the kids and trying to keep them happy, just like they do at home.
The key to a successful family holiday, where mum and dad get time to relax too, is preparation, says Catherine Cooper, author of Travelling With Children: A Parent's Guide.
"A lot of it is about planning - you have to really think about it before you go, and if you do that, you can have fun with kids on almost any holiday you want to," she promises.
"You can still very much do what you want, and it's often more fun with the kids there too."
The holiday often starts with a flight, of course, and the younger the children, the more anxious the parent.
But making sure you're armed with some small, non-precious toys that don't have lots of bits, pens and a colouring book, and non-sugary snacks will help keep young children entertained, as will the in-flight entertainment monitor on the back of the plane seats.
"Try to keep your kids under control on the plane, but if you've got a baby crying, there's not a lot you can do," warns Cooper, "so try not to get too stressed about it - other people are just going to have to put up with it."
Cooper, whose own children are eight and 10, says that if you've got young children, it's always good to go on holiday with friends or extended family who also have kids, as you can share the childcare and the children will have others to play with.
But if you've booked a holiday for just your family, it might be an idea for mum and dad to sometimes take it in turns to look after the kids, suggests Cooper, so the other parent can go to see something or do an activity without the kids moaning.
"Try to remember it's everybody's holiday and not just the children's, and try to get a balance of activities," she says.
"You don't have to entertain the kids every minute of the day - do some things you want to do as well."
She suggests that if mum and dad want to do something like go to an art gallery or a museum, for example, they should simply be savvy about doing it, by limiting their time there, and promising the children they can do something they want to do afterwards.
"If you do things in small doses, children will be reasonably happy to do it," advises Cooper.
"But don't try to cram too many things in - that can be too exhausting. Just have a day or two when you don't do anything and you stay by the pool."
Sarah Tucker, a 'mummy travel writer' who's just written The Bump To Baby Travel Guide, points out that if you're flying with a young baby, feed it just before the flight so it's more likely to sleep, and dot some lavender oil around during the flight to help create an air of calm.
For older children, simply bring a portable DVD player with a long-life battery, or a fully charged iPad, headphones and a stock of films and audio books, she suggests.
She warns parents not to let children have fizzy drinks or sweet things before and during the flight, as such treats could give them energy that's a recipe for disaster when confined to a plane seat.
And she stresses: "If you want them to be calm, be calm yourself - they will feed off you."
When you're at your destination, Tucker advises parents to check out the location of the nearest doctors' surgery, hospital, chemist, and grocery store, for peace of mind.
To keep kids happy, parents should give them the option of using the internet and their computer games, she says.
However, children should also be able to enjoy new activities such as kayaking, paragliding, horse riding, etc.
Tucker says: "In short, let them make the choice.
"If they do that, they're more likely to enjoy it - no TV and no internet will make them want them more."
She points out: "Holidays are never the same after you have children, but that's the joy of them.
"If you want to recreate a pre-children holiday, then try a weekend break without them. Treat the family holiday as something that's a real window of opportunity - really get to know your kids and let them get to know you."
She suggests writing a diary recording each day of the holiday, and stresses: "Write down even the grotty bits - you'll laugh at them in your old age, I promise."
Like Cooper, she stresses that parents shouldn't over-schedule on holiday, and should make time for themselves.
"Don't think you need to be with the kids all the time. Use the babysitters in the hotels if they're available - it may be the time that keeps you sane."
She adds: "Don't forget, family holidays can be absolutely magical and life-changing for you, as well as your children.
"Enjoy this time - it doesn't last forever, and once it's gone, it's gone."
:: The Bump To Baby Travel Guide is available at www.sarahtucker.info/resources/Baby_Travel_Guide.pdf, or http://comfortpure.co.uk; Travelling With Children: A Parent's Guide by Catherine Cooper is published by Need2Know, priced £9.99
Ask the expert Q: "I've heard there's been a rise in cases of whooping cough and I'm worried my six-week-old baby may catch it. What are the symptoms, and how dangerous is it?"
A: Dr Gayatri Amirthalingam, a consultant epidemiologist and immunisation expert at the Health Protection Agency, says: "Cases of whooping cough tend to peak in a cyclical pattern every three to four years. This year there's been an increase in cases right across the UK, and we're seeing the highest number of cases in several years.
"Although whooping cough can affect people of all ages, it can be a very serious illness in babies and young children who are most at risk of complications.
"Early symptoms of whooping cough are similar to the common cold, followed by a second stage characterised by intense bouts of coughing. In infants there may be vomiting after coughing. The cough often comes in short bursts followed by a gasp for air when the characteristic whooping noise may be made.
"The infection spreads easily between close contacts such as family members. Vaccination is the most effective way to protect people from this infection and parents should ensure their children are up to date with their vaccinations so that they're protected at the earliest opportunity.
"The pre-school booster is also important, not only to boost protection in that child but also to reduce the risk of them passing the infection on to vulnerable babies, as those under four months cannot be fully protected by the vaccine.
"Parents should be aware of the signs and symptoms of whooping cough and visit their GP if they or their children show symptoms of the infection."
:: For more information about whooping cough, visit www.nhs.uk/conditions Holiday entertainment
Kurio Tablet A tablet for kids featuring multi-touchscreen technology, parental and time controls, pre-loaded children's games and eight profile settings, so one child can have full internet access, another restricted access, etc. Suitable from age four plus, £149.99, available from good retailers including Argos, Early Learning Centre and Toys R Us.
Poppin Hoppies A crazy popping madness game featuring spring-loaded characters which players push down and then catch as they randomly pop into the air. Each player has their own Hoppie figure, made up of coloured puzzle parts, and they must catch the corresponding Poppin Hoppies to collect the pieces for their figure. Suitable for age four plus, £16.99, available from good retailers including Amazon and Argos.
Wham-O Hacky Sack Striker Kids can test their football skills without the risk of smashing a window by using this durable bean-filled footbag in a football design. Available from Amazon, £7.24.
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