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Parenting whisperer Dr. Becky Kennedy offers five essential (and practical) tips for manifesting peaceful family vacations.
A FEW MONTHS into the pandemic, a friend sent me a short video with a note about how the woman in it — a psychologist and mom of three who appeared to be filming herself from her closet — is the reason she no longer puts her kids in timeout. I was skeptical as I hit play from my 800-square-foot apartment, which had been converted into a coworking preschool due to quarantining without childcare. But I was instantly encouraged by Dr. Becky’s concise advice. The New York City-based doctor is direct, pragmatic, and quick to remind recovering perfectionists like me about the art of repair. Her feed was a beacon of light in what had admittedly become a dark period of parenting. I now had a supportive, nonjudgemental resource that I could turn to whenever I had 30 seconds to scroll. I was hooked.
Rebecca Kennedy, Ph.D., known as “Dr. Becky,” is a clinical psychologist, a #1 New York Times best-selling author, and the co-founder of “Good Inside,” a global membership platform and chart-topping podcast. Named “The Millennial Parenting Whisperer” by Time magazine, her bite-sized advice resonates in part because it rejects the binary good-versus-bad parenting mentality that was instilled by earlier generations. Instead, Dr. Becky — who often films her videos spontaneously, while in the throes of rearing her own children — believes that all kids are inherently good inside and that their behavior (tantrums, rudeness, rule-breaking) is often a signal that they’re having a hard time. In place of sticker charts and timeouts, Dr. Becky’s methodology emphasizes self-regulation, resilience, and emotional well-being for both parent and child
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We may be, blessedly, well out of quarantine, but Dr. Becky remains my parenting rock. So, when it came time to psychologically prepare for our upcoming family vacation, she was my obvious first call. And as expected, she broke down everything I needed to know into five pieces of down-to-earth travel advice that, I can personally confirm, works.
“Vacations can be very overwhelming for kids,” Dr. Becky tells me. They’re on a different schedule; sleeping in a new bed; trying new food; surrounded by new people, places, and sounds; and there are unexpected things happening all the time. “All of this change and constant stimulation can make kids feel out of control on the inside, which often leads to them acting out of control on the outside.” It’s important for parents to establish realistic expectations before their trip and remind one another that things won’t go exactly as planned. Choosing a mantra like, “There will be challenging moments AND we can cope” is a helpful tool for parents, empowering them to feel capable instead of disappointed when situations like tantrums inevitably arise.
Dr. Becky reports that many parents believe that big feelings create big reactions, but it’s actually the element of surprise, and being caught off-guard by their emotions, that causes a kid to have an outburst. She recommends rehearsing the situations that tend to trigger your kid ahead of time. This involves role-playing: “What if someone offers you a food that you don’t like — what should you say?” Your child might suggest something like, “That’s not my favorite” or “No, thank you,” and then you can encourage them by saying, “That’s a great idea!” “This is called preloading a response,” she says. When we prepare our kids for a situation ahead of time, and even equip them with a few talking points, they’re less likely to be surprised and react in a way that’ll leave you feeling embarrassed.
According to Dr. Becky, a parent's role is twofold: to uphold boundaries and practice empathy. “Boundaries are the decisions we make and the limits we set to keep our children safe. Empathy enables us to validate our kid's feelings even if we don’t agree with them or feel them ourselves.” Let’s say your flight is delayed and your kid, who has reached their limit for waiting at the airport, starts getting upset and kicking you. You might uphold a boundary by physically holding their foot and saying, “I’m not going to let you kick me,” and validate their feelings by adding, “I know you’re frustrated, but let’s find a way to get that frustration out in a different way.”
When a kid is anxious, Dr. Becky explains, “the three most important things you can do are: validate their feelings, assert your presence, and remind them that you believe in their ability to cope.” Let’s say your child is afraid of flying. You can begin by empathizing: “I hear you, you’re nervous and that makes sense because we haven’t flown in a while.” Instead of promising your child that it’ll be a smooth flight (which is often not the case), focus on the things you can control, like your presence. “Here’s what I know for sure: I will be with you the whole time and we’re going to get through this together.” Then remind your child that you believe in their resilience by stating, “Here’s something else I know for sure: This is hard and you are a kid who can do hard things.”
Dr. Becky is big on upholding boundaries and building resilience, but she is also very practical. “I am not doing my best ‘Good Inside’ parenting on vacation,” she admits. “If there’s an opportunity to get ice cream so my kid doesn’t have a meltdown because their brother doesn’t want to play frisbee with them, you better bet I’m going to do that. There will still be times when your kid throws a tantrum, and after holding a boundary and empathizing with them, you can remind yourself that this is challenging AND you can cope."
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Jenn Tardif is the founder of the mindful collective 3rd Ritual, a certified aromatherapist, and a writer. A devout student of Taoism, yoga, and mindfulness, Tardif is a firm believer that wisdom lights the path to well-being, and has made a lifelong commitment to share the teachings with anyone curious enough to learn more.
Tara Anand is an illustrator and visual artist from Bombay, India based in New York City. She loves to work in bright colors and organic textures, and tends to draw from books, history and her surroundings. Anand works primarily on editorial and children’s book projects.
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