“You’ll need a bigger paper than that.” I replied to Kalyra when she showed me her art work and told me she was drawing all her friends.
“You have so many friends,”
I know but I’m just drawing my best friends.
Only earlier in the day, she had asked me,
“What if I don’t make any friends at drama class?”
“Darling, when have you never not made friends?
“Oh yeah, you’re right.”
I had booked her and Savannah in for a week’s summer camp here in Raleigh – acting classes. They were both so excited to attend, but like all humans, nervous about showing up alone and not knowing a single soul.
They’ve spent most of their life doing that.
Of course, like any parent, you worry endlessly about your decisions and how you can mess up your child for life. I know many parents worry about this as it’s one of the biggest questions I get asked in relation to family travel.
Will travel ruin my kids socially?
The only thing that has bothered me in regards to our travel life has been the socialization aspect. Will the travel mess them up socially?
I’m not in denial to think that in some small way it might. But, I’m not in denial to also realise that a life of staying in the one small town and the kids being in school wouldn’t also. When you think about the school system, really think about it, we throw our children in a room full of 30 strangers with diverse personalities and expect them to just get along.
No wonder bullying is rampant. It’s a dog eat dog world in there. True Lord or the Rings survival of the fittest.
So I’m not too anxious about them not being in school and losing the opportunity to make friends.
What are friends?
I’ve spoken to Kalyra and Savannah about forever friends. And we spoke about it together with Indie when we left Burleigh. Indie was Kalyra’s best friend and they still keep in contact and she misses her so much.
A forever friend is someone you can go days, weeks, months and even years without seeing, but when you meet again it’s like you never left. They never leave your heart and they always come back. I see our lifestyle as one being where my children, and myself, collect forever friends.
I’ve lived like this for 20 years and I don’t feel I’ve missed out. I miss my oldest friends, but they’ve moved on to separate lives as well. I feel blessed that I have forever friends.
I also feel comforted in knowing that travel has taught me that I can walk into any room in the world alone, feeling nervous and afraid, and still form friendships by the end of the night.
My children are learning this too.
My focus as we travel is not for my children to make as many friends as they can. I understand the reality of our travel lifestyle is that they’ll be the majority of their social interactions will be fleeting. I have not focused this post on “How to help your kids make friendships while they travel” I think this is the wrong focus.
It’s about using travel as a powerful tool to teach socialization skills so that no matter where they go, and no matter what age they are, they have the skills to interact with others and form friendships.
The travel will help them develop strong identities for themselves so when they stop, they’ll easily be able to form friendships with people who connect with that identity and forever friends will be form.
I’ve focused on teaching my girls that they do not need to be the most popular person, they don’t need lots of friends, all they need is a deep love and acceptance of self and a few forever friends.
I think travel does a brilliant job of helping them understand this. I think it helps them understand that they will meet people in life for various reasons, they will come and go, and you can easily let that happen and love that friendship for what it brought them in that season.
Here’s a wonderful poem that explains this.
Reason, Season, or Lifetime
People come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
When you figure out which one it is,
you will know what to do for each person.
When someone is in your life for a REASON,
it is usually to meet a need you have expressed.
They have come to assist you through a difficulty;
to provide you with guidance and support;
to aid you physically, emotionally or spiritually.
They may seem like a godsend, and they are.
They are there for the reason you need them to be.
Then, without any wrongdoing on your part or at an inconvenient time,
this person will say or do something to bring the relationship to an end.
Sometimes they die. Sometimes they walk away.
Sometimes they act up and force you to take a stand.
What we must realize is that our need has been met, our desire fulfilled; their work is done.
The prayer you sent up has been answered and now it is time to move on.
Some people come into your life for a SEASON,
because your turn has come to share, grow or learn.
They bring you an experience of peace or make you laugh.
They may teach you something you have never done.
They usually give you an unbelievable amount of joy.
Believe it. It is real. But only for a season.
LIFETIME relationships teach you lifetime lessons;
things you must build upon in order to have a solid emotional foundation.
Your job is to accept the lesson, love the person,
and put what you have learned to use in all other relationships and areas of your life.
It is said that love is blind but friendship is clairvoyant.
I love the relationships my travel lifestyle for 20 years now has given me. I’m often away from my forever friends, but I have a lifestyle where I am always interacting with other people and keeping my socialisation skills up. I love being social and I’m happy hanging out with people, even if it’s just for one night. I love it for what it is and let it pass.
My forever friends are always in my heart and are just a phone call away. We’re always there for each other and when we do hang out in real life, we have the most amazing time. I miss them like crazy a lot of the time, but the distance doesn’t diminish how much I love and cherish them.
I’ve noticed how the travel lifestyle has helped the girls develop their confidence and courage and I can see leaders starting to form. I’m not sure this would have happened if they remained with the one circle of friends.
But I also know not having the one circle of friends all their life could make an impact.
Everything we do as parents will have an impact.
We can’t fret over every decision or feel guilty. We look at the bigger picture, where the greater strength and growth lies, decide based upon that and make the best out of that situation.
So how do we ensure our children are getting ample opportunities to interact with children their age and keep up their socialization skills?
We travel with other families
We traveled around Australia for a time with two families. One from Cairns to Broome on and off for a few weeks. Scarlett and Kalyra were the same age, and Jack and Savannah were the same age. They were great mates.
Then for six months we traveled on and off with another family. Their daughter, Maddie was Kalyra’s age, they were even enrolled in the same Distance Education school.
We just spent time with people we knew from online in Nashville and went camping with our friends at Kerr Lake, North Carolina.
We connect with kids through our friendships
If you have friends in the destination you are visiting, you can perhaps stay with them, or at least spend time with them. A picnic in the park, a dinner, or even exploring the local area with them.
We make a big effort to connect with people we know who have kids, which gives the girls plenty of opportunity to improve their social skills. It’s easier because they already have that common ground via the parents.
Camping is a fantastic way to interact with other families. It’s such open living that it’s easy to chat with others camping next to you, using the facilities and amenities. Plus many campsites have communal games and activities you can enjoy.
I remember one campsite at Wharncliffe Mill Bush Retreat in Margaret River, where all the kids in the campsite spent the afternoons playing soccer and spotlight and having a ball.
We join local activities like summer camp
As mentioned, the girls recently attended acting summer camp. They made friends and had a fun time. They didn’t collect any forever friends while there, but it gave them the oppportunity to keep up their social skills and pursue a passion and talent.
We head to family friendly attractions or local festivals
Do your research before arriving at a destination, you’ll discover plenty of local festivals, markets or family attractions.
With all the fun things kids experience at events like this it’s easy for them to strike up conversations with other kids and play with them.
Joining family friendly tours is also a great way kids can interact with each other, especially small group tours.
Use kid’s clubs and resort amenities
There’s nothing like a swimming pool for kids to make new friends. If you stay in hotels, or resorts, make good use of the resort facilities. From Kid’s clubs, to movie nights, swimming pools, basketball courts and mini-golf, there are tons of ways kids can start talking and playing with other kids.
Cruises are great for kids engaging with others (we’ll be cruising the Caribbean next week. Follow along on Instagram) There are so many on-board kid related activities.
We keep in contact with the forever friends
Sometimes this can be hard to do as we all lead crazy busy lives, and when you bring in things like time differences, it’s even harder. However, remenber a forever friend – they’ll always be your friend no matter how much time has passed between chats.
Kalyra communicates with her friends via the wonderful tools and communities we have online. All of which is set to private and monitored by us. We’ve just recently banned Kalyra from some apps and restricted her usage due to inappropriate use!!
How to help your kids socialize with others
It’s all good to immerse your kids in spaces where other families and kids are, but how do you actually get them talking?
It’s no different whether you are traveling with kids or at home, social skills never change. So I’m sure you know what to do. Here’s a few things we do.
Be a good role model
We’ll start conversations with strangers, and people camping beside us. We ask questions and talk about our travels and where we come from. Hopefully the girls are learning by watching how to do the same.
My girls are naturally very shy. They have improved truck loads, but there are still moments when they won’t be the first to reach out and will hide behind my legs. So I’ll start by introducing myself to the children or asking them questions.
And then I’ll try to find something common so I can lead the children to talk. “Oh really, my daughter, Savannah loves American Girl dolls, don’t you Savannah?”
Help them connect through games and activities
It’s incredible how kids can meet each other for the first time and be awkward and shy, then you encourage them to play a game like hide and seek and they can’t stop chattering. They just need something initial to bond over and the rest will take care of itself.
Some games we find work well hide and seek, spotlight, ball games, mancala, Trouble and Clue.
Craft activities can work well, although I am not a crafty person.
And then outdoors ports and activities, especially if you are camping, are great like supping, kayaking, swimming, and tubing! Our kids made new friends recently when we went camping at Kerr Lake over smores and outdoor fun.
If all else fails, tablet games or movies
We like to use this as a last resort. It doesn’t always work out that way. But, we’re not too concerned about it. If it helps the shy and awkward kids connect at first and bond then so be it. Sometimes the kids will create funny videos etc. using their devices which I think is creative and cool.
They eventually put it away and become friends. Once they do, we typically restrict the device use and get them interacting in other ways.
Help them interact with adults
Don’t forget adult interaction. My girls have a lot of interaction with other adults. I think it’s hugely important for their social skills, especially if they are interacting with adults with such diverse backgrounds.
The girls can be really shy at times, sometimes I feel it comes off as standoffish. I chatted about this with them last week and explained how it’s okay to be shy, but that doesn’t mean we can’t smile, look someone in the eye, answer their questions and express your gratitude.
Once I told them this, they started doing this straight away. It was amazing to see the difference. Sometimes you just have to point things out and make sure you’re not allowing them to use shyness as an excuse to not engage, or be polite.
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How do you keep up your child’s social skills when you travel? Or even your own?