I spent four days in Sacramento last week at the International Association for Play Therapy Conference. It was so encouraging to be surrounded by hundreds of people who believe in the power or play and the ability children possess to heal themselves. As exciting and informative as it was, it was my first time away from my son (who just turned two) for more than eight hours. So, in an effort to make the trip easier for both of us, my husband and I worked diligently to prepare him and educate him about the process. Here are my suggestions:
1. Set expectations. Several days leading up to the trip, talk about the fact that you are leaving. Children handle stressful and challenging situations better when they know what to expect. The more you can prepare them for what is going to happen, the easier they will handle the situation when it finally comes.
2. Include them in the planning. Kids love to help and need to feel useful. Let them help you pack and discuss what you will need the items for. Use the opportunity to educate them about airports, hotels, taxis, anything that you will be doing while you are gone. This will let them feel more involved and more connected, even though they will not be with you.
3. Give them information about your trip. Get out a globe or map or go to Google Maps and show them where you are going. Talk about what the weather will be like, what you will be doing, etc. Show them the hotel or home you will be staying in by looking at the satellite images available on Google Maps. Give them a visual representation to an abstract concept.
4. Keep in virtual contact. Skype and Facetime offer easy and free ways to communicate via computer while you are away. Allowing your kids to see you (even if only on a screen) gives them a measure of power in the situation, providing them with security and safety in your absence.
5. Make the reunion special. Allow them to help you decide what special activity you will do when you return. Take them to a movie, go to their favorite restaurant, go to the beach, etc. If you include them in the decision making process, not only does it encourage self-responsibility and making choices, but it gives them something to look forward to when you return.
Separation can be difficult for parents and children. I know I was concerned about how much I would miss him and how he would fare without me for four days. He did really well, and surprisingly, so did I! I attribute our success to being purposeful in including our son in every part of the process. I wish you safe and happy travels with safe and happy kids at home!