The benefits of an unplugged family vacation

Whether your family is jet-setting overseas or planning an epic stay-cation this summer, the concentrated family time and slower pace lent by an unplugged family vacation can do wonders to help a family reconnect and bond.

Read on for tips from CHOC Children’s experts, as well as an Orange County grandmother and CHOC supporter, on how to create an awesome family vacation that will surely create lifelong memories.

In an era where people of all ages are busier than ever, CHOC mental health experts stress the importance of letting kids be kids, and how “unplugged” time benefits everyone.

Dr. Harpreet Kaur, a pediatric psychologist at CHOC, says that children who face the pressures of adulthood may experience the ailments of it as well.

“Stress is linked to depression and anxiety,” she says. “Children who are stressed won’t have as much energy and can experience headaches and other physical ailments. Stress can surface in different ways; some children may experience pain, while others stop talking.”

Rising sources of stress on children comes at a time when they are exposed to more screen time than ever. School screen time coupled with at-home smart device usage can on average expose a student aged 8 to 18 years to media for more than 10 hours per day, says Dr. Rahul Bhola, a pediatric ophthalmologist at CHOC.

Janet Davidson, a member of CHOC Children’s board of directors, learned these lessons first hand during a recent overseas vacation with her extended family and close friends.

Janet Davidson, a member of CHOC Children’s board of directors,

“Despite the vast array of things to see and do in the area, the most treasured experiences were just hanging out with each other,” she says. “Early mornings in the kitchen with a cup of freshly-brewed Italian coffee, dinner outside, playing games, swimming in a pool and going for walks were all special times for our group. Although most of us had brought along smartphones and tablets, they were rarely used.”

Janet learned so much about the benefits of an unplugged vacation that she put her words to paper, recently publishing an insightful memoir “Meet us in Tuscany.”

“When I planned this trip, I had no plans to write a book, but when I came home I felt a need to do something to share lessons learned with others, so they could benefit no matter where they were in the world,” she says.

Unplugged family time ― whether you’re traveling or staying local ― opens the door for nutritional benefits as well.

CHOC clinical dietitian Shonda Brown stresses the importance of involving kids in the kitchen, exposing them to new flavors and letting them be involved in the process of preparing food.

“Exposing toddlers to a variety of foods and flavors increases the number of foods accepted in later childhood,” she says.

Shonda recommends having children help create a new meal or snack from a few healthy ingredients. In the kitchen, adults and kids can talk about how it smells, tastes, looks and feels.

“Children are more open to trying new foods if they have opportunities to explore and learn about the food before they eat it,” Shonda says.

On Janet’s trip, each family member or friend who came to stay at their villa was tasked with planning and making a meal for the group. They shopped from local vendors, used seasonal ingredients, and embraced the exposure to new ingredients and dishes.

“This activity turned out to be one of everyone’s favorite things,” she says. “The grandchildren on the trip tried everything they were exposed to, and they were involved in the kitchen as much as the adults.”

Just as Janet relearned the benefits associated with renewed personal bonds, we encourage you to drop the screens and unplug from time to time and to reconnect with family and friends.

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