For many parents, the thought of travelling and leaving the kids behind brings back memories of the film Home Alone. But it doesn’t have to be that way. With a little preparation, you can travel for business or pleasure and leave your kids behind without fear or despair.
First things first. Leaving your children at home isn’t easy. The younger they are, the more separation anxiety they may feel. You’ll feel it, too.
No matter what age your kids are you’ll need to make general preparations. If they have any medical issues or allergies, make sure the caregiver is aware. Create a list of medications and emergency contacts. There should be a fully stocked first-aid kit in the house and the caregiver should be prepared to handle emergencies. Carry a fully charged cell phone with you at all times, so you can be reached in case of an emergency. Leave a complete copy of your itinerary behind and check in on a regular basis – especially if your itinerary changes. Discuss what your children should do in emergencies: how to contact 911 and/or you.
Familiar Surroundings: It is much easier on younger kids to remain at home or in familiar settings. Your own home is best, with a familiar babysitter or caregiver coming in. But if the kids have spent a lot of time at Grandma and Grandpa’s house, that should be fine.
Routines: Try to keep change to the minimum. If your child is used to doing certain things at certain times, don’t change their schedule. You want to reduce disruption to their daily lives as much as possible.
Discuss: Talk about your trip with your children. Explain why you’re going, why they’re not and why this is not some sort of punishment. With younger children, involve them in the planning and packing process. It’ll help them take some ownership of your journey. Send emails and photos from the road. They’ll wake up excited to hear from you and see what you’re doing – just don’t look like you’re having too much fun!
Activities: It may help to give your kids new things to do. Things like music lessons, sports and other activities will keep them busy. They’ll be thinking about the task at hand, not about you. If you travel in the summer, sending kids to camp is an excellent idea.
Who’s The Boss: If you’re leaving your kids with a babysitter, make sure they know who’s boss. Just because Mom and Dad are away, that doesn’t mean they’re now in charge. This is very important for older children to learn. Sit down with them and explain the situation. Ask a neighbour to keep an eye out.
Presents: Leave little gifts that can be opened in your absence. The caregiver can give these out every morning to reward good behaviour and to remind your children that you’re thinking of them. It also gives you something to talk about when you call home.
Keep in Touch: Use Skype or other computer based video chat services to have a face-to-face every day or two. This is really helpful for younger children.
I’m Baaaack: Don’t forget to bring home a present from your trip. Something specific to the destination will encourage talking about the trip and travelling in general. Also plan to spend lots of time with your kids when you return home.
And one final tip: Make sure you enjoy yourself!
For more about separation anxiety, visit the US National Library of Medicine’s page on the topic.