WHITNEY: Plan for success to achieve your best

Summer travel, so far, has been a bit challenging for us.

This year, both sets of grandparents have taken up part-time residency at getaways across the state, and they’re begging us to come spend some time on the beach. We’re happy to join them, but the trips always throw a wrench in our normal routine and expectations.

Neither of our families are necessarily model citizens when it comes to healthy eating. The hustle-bustle of activity always leaves our kiddo both exhausted and exhilarated, a combination other people call “overstimulated,” I guess. There’s so much to do and everything is so different than at home, so let’s break all the rules! Sharing Doritos with the wet dog? Sure, go for it. Bedtime at 11 p.m.? Well, I guess it’s a special occasion...

And when I finally fall into bed at the end of the night tired and bloated, I wish I would’ve brought my own groceries and blackout curtains. We probably could have all benefited from a mid-afternoon nap and a smoothie, I think right before I wonder if it would have been easier to just stay at home.

This is the gap between knowing and doing. I know how to be a good parent, what works for my family and how to make it all happen. But I “fail” when I set myself up to fail.

Tania Lombrozo, a professor of psychology at UC Berkeley, wrote about this gap this week for NPR. We know how to be better parents, but we can’t do our best when we aren’t on top of our game.

Remember how your child began walking? You sat patiently and enthusiastically on the ground, probably clearing blocks and blankets from the logical path from you to baby. You coaxed and encouraged your child to let go of the coffee table and slowly put one foot in front of the other. When she was successful, you clapped and praised her and lavished her with affection.

All behavior works the same way.

If you want to promote better eating habits, for example, you need to create great conditions for that to happen and get excited when it does happen. Stock your cupboards and refrigerator with healthy snacks that are as easily as accessible and as low maintenance in preparation as a bag of chips (even if that means taking 20 minutes after grocery shopping to chop carrots and peppers and repackaging them in Tupperware). When your child chooses a good snack, praise him and join him with a carrot of your own.

Want a better summer vacation? Prepare to create ideal conditions for that to happen. Bring the food the keeps your family fueled properly, make sure everyone wears sunblock and gets a good rest when they need it. And, probably most importantly, don’t freak out when things go off the rails a little. If the kids miss bedtime because they’re up roasting s’mores, view it not as a transgression of the rules but as an opportunity to, I dunno, be a kid enjoying summer vacation. 

When you pack it in on Sunday afternoon and head for home, talk about what a good time you had and start planning to do it right again next time. 

We can be the kind of parents we want to be, even on vacation, as long as we set ourselves up for success.