I took Jack for lunch earlier this week and I was stunned when he started recounting a holiday we went on well over a year ago.
He would have just turned two-years-old at the time, but he was very insistent that he remembered ‘splashing’ in the sea, playing with the Barbies in the caravan and going to the ‘noisy bit’ (slot machines).
It reminded me that the happy memories of holidays last a lifetime. This is why holidays have been called “happiness anchors” and crucial for our children’s emotional development.
Holidays Strengthen Emotional Wellbeing
I’ve always advocated for holidays. I love the planning, the sense of adventure, discovering somewhere new. In my 20’s, my husband and I enjoyed a brief spell of backpacking, touring hostels, exploring new cities and uncovering hidden gems.
Since having kids the adventuring has tailed off a bit. Mainly due to financial or time pressures but we always try and do at least one break away a year. Be it splashing in the sea at Southwold or journeying down to Devon for a week-long holiday.
Although I often worry whether dragging young children across the country is creating bad memories of being stuck in traffic or being sick in the car.
However, recent research found that family trips have a profound impact on kid’s overall happiness and well-being.
The research was published in the Journal of Commercial Research and found that family breaks and outings had a bigger impact than material gifts.
John McDonald, Director of the Family Holiday Association discussed the “happiness anchor” with The Huffington Post saying that by “reflecting on our happiest memories of joyful time spent together as a family can be extremely powerful in bringing relief and respite when faced with the darker times that life can bring.”
“By using these memories as an anchor to take us back to more cheerful moments, we’re often able to approach problems with a fresh sense of perspective. But for many without such memories, reigniting a sense of optimism for getting through the tougher times can seem like an impossible task.”
Holidays are Vital for Bonding
Everyday life and distractions often get in the way of having quality family time. I’m the first to admit that I’m often distracted when at home, either trying to reply to client emails or trying to catch up on housework.
Holidays allow us that time to reconnect and focus on each other. According to a 2010 research study in the Netherlands, experiencing new places together definitely increases a family’s happiness.
Building sandcastles, playing crazy golf or just having a game of catch are all classed as “attachment play” and vital for bonding.
Child Psychologist Dr Margot Sunderland said in The Times “Attachment play also enhances self-esteem, sending the child a psychological message: ‘You have my full attention. I delight in you. I delight in being with you’.”
Holidays Fuel Brain Growth
It doesn’t really matter where you go on holiday, but taking them somewhere new aids their brain growth and helps develop parts of the brain that are associated with everything from stress management to improved ability to learn.
These are known as the play and seeking systems, embedded deep within the brain and often go unexercised at home. Giving piggybacks or burying your child’s feet in the sand could help exercise their brain’s play system.
Going on an adventure, exploring the fields, a new village or beach will help bring the seeking system of the brain to life.
These brain systems were discovered by Professor Jaak Panksepp, a world-leading neuroscientist at Washington University. He found that once these systems were activated they trigger well-being neurochemicals including opioids, oxytocin and dopamine.
Exercising the play and seeking parts of the brain will aid your children well into adult life too, giving them the ability to play with ideas, social intelligence and cognitive functioning.
Holidays Are Educational
A study in the US found that family travel is an important part of children’s education that “contributes to cognitive growth and stimulates a child’s sense of wonderment,” says Dr. William Norman, associate professor in Parks, Recreation and tourist management at Clemson University in South Carolina.
“Providing kids with the experience of travel broadens their horizons and opens their mind to learning.”
Furthermore, just 20 minutes of being outside in nature and green space helps build concentration, lowers blood pressure, stress hormones and even cholesterol.
Neurological research found that those exposed to “enriched environments”, such as places that offer opportunity for social and physical interaction have higher IQs.
So there you have it. Travel makes your kids smarter, happier and healthier. I best go and get that holiday booked – for the sakes of the children.