What Taking a Vacation Teaches Kids

Kids will grow into working adults, and unless we want them to be lost in a mire of stress, we need to live a life that helps them value leisure.

For kids, spring break is a much-needed respite from the drudgery of school. For many parents, however, spring break is just another week of work complicated by the need for daily childcare. But for those parents who can, and choose not to take time off, an important teachable moment is being missed. Because as Americans continue to work themselves ragged, it’s crucial for kids to know that taking time off is healthy and important. Spring break can be a valuable lesson in self care.

Parenting experts are unequivocal about one thing: kids learn from what parents do, not what they say. Children look to adults to learn how to be a person living in the world. Parents are models of appropriate behavior, and not simply when it comes to how we communicate with each other in the home. Children are looking at our entire lives. They see how we work. They see our stress and what we do to cope with our stress. They are taking it all in, building the framework for their lives.

Yes, school reinforces time off through mandated breaks and vacations. But the school is bureaucratic entity. Its rules are prescriptive, not moral. You go on break because the school is closed, not because it’s the right thing to do. So there’s no lesson there for children about the importance of free time.

That’s what parents need to provide. They need to reinforce the value of leisure. They need to show children that taking time to explore and experience is just as important as hard work. Because it is.

Sadly, Americans haven’t really internalized that lesson. Consider a 2017 study from the U.S. Travel Association that found 52 percent of workers failed to use all the time off given them. Never mind that studies have found men who fail to take a vacation are more likely to suffer heart attacks and cardiovascular disease compared to those who take at least two weeks a year.

Vacation is crucial for health and well being. For families, it helps build rich memories and deepen family bonds. All things considered, families should consider vacation a moral activity, as connected to the health of a family as play and religion.

Of course, that is not the message the world at large is sending families. Because child rearing is so wildly intensive as families scramble and push to help kids get ahead in life, vacations feel like an indulgence, or maybe even a distraction, if they can even be afforded.

But, importantly, vacations don’t need to be about high-status destinations. That’s not really the point of taking free time. The important part is that families spend time together unburdened by obligations to anything else but one another’s happiness. That can happen with a day spent playing in the backyard or hours at a park, or a short road trip to a State Park.

Spring break does not need to be anything special, but it should be a break, for both parents and kids. Because kids will grow into working adults, and unless we want them to be lost in a mire of stress, we need to live a life that helps them value leisure. They’ll have to work, but we should raise a generation that demands vacation.