Benedict Smith chats to Family Holiday Association's Head of Programmes, John Kinnear, about the role of holidays in connecting families, improving mental health and getting kids to put down their tech

New experiences play an important role in the development of children

When you think of being on a family holiday, you may envision scenes of sunbathing by palm-fringed swimming pools, strolls along bustling promenades, sitting on beaches making sandcastles, or snuggling around roaring fires in the middle of nowhere. 

Yet while holidays have long been considered a luxury, they could play a far more important role in our lives - both immediate and long term - than we realise. 

School performance

John Kinnear is Head of Programmes at Family Holiday Association, a registered charity with over 40 years’ worth of experience in providing family holidays to those who would otherwise lack the means to travel.

“Family getaways provide children - first and foremost - with new experiences that have the potential to enliven their ability to see a wider range of opportunities,” says Kinnear.

“Be it a twenty-mile trip up the road or a two-week getaway in the Bahamas, our studies indicate that children not only feel more incentivised to go back to school when they know they have interesting experiences they can share with their peers, they may also be more motivated to perform well in the classroom.”

The studies Kinnear refers to are based on a recent survey of over 1,000 families who went on a holiday with the charity last year. It found that, overall, children returned from their breaks happier, feeling less isolated and were up to 85 percent more likely to attend school in cases where this had previously been an issue. 

Additionally, parents responded by suggesting that their children appeared more motivated to do well at school and spoke ambitiously about continuing their explorations further afield.

Family holidays can strengthen the bonds between parents and children

Parent-child bonding

Another key area where Kinnear tends to see improvement is in the bond between parents and their children.

“Family holidays are where a lot of happy and lasting memories are formed. It’s where both children and adults can have fun together, connect and enjoy pure ‘mum and dad’ time in an immaterial way.

"These are connections that can only truly be formed while away from the day-to-day distractions and stresses of home life, be it worries about work or simple house chores. When in a new and relaxed environment, children have a tendency to be more honest with their feelings, expressing themselves far more openly than they ever could at home.”

Holidays can form the foundation of a positive and lasting relationship

In fact, the positive impact of a family holiday may resonate even more profoundly with parents than it does with their kids. When it comes to being a ‘tourist’, adults feel the associated sense of belonging and connection with society far more strongly than their children. 

“The time away from home seems to provide parents in particular with a break from the stresses and strains of daily life and a new perspective on how to cope better once they get back home,” says Kinnear. "This can be very powerful, often reflected once home in the form of socialising with friends or helping in the community, leading to an improved state of mind that impacts positively on their kids."

'Switching off' has taken on completely new meaning in the 21st-century

Switching off

Since the advent of smartphones, tablets and 24-hour-a-day connectivity, the term ‘switching off’ has taken on a somewhat more significant and literal meaning than it had at the turn of the millennium. 

Yet family holidays, Kinnear claims, can assist with helping both adults and their kids to put down the screens and live more in the moment.

"Our survey showed that 94 percent of families reported spending more time with each other after their holiday than they did before. It can put a positive spin on conversations and some families were found to still be discussing aspects of the holiday up to a year after returning."

So, how often is a family holiday recommended?

“Once a year,” says Kinnear. “Family holidays are important. More than that, they have the potential to form the foundation of a positive and lasting relationship between parents and their children, benefiting both parties in ways that would otherwise be impossible at home. So long as families are having fun in a new environment, it doesn’t matter where it is.”

Family Holiday Association have been helping disadvantaged families gain access to holidays since 1975. In addition to providing days out and overnight trips, they also conduct significant research into the value of holidays for families, as well as increasing awareness of the problems associated with a lack of access to family holidays.