Traveling without your child
Leaving your child at home while you travel may be a frightening and stressful prospect if you've never done it before - and even if you have!
But you can take steps to prepare your child before you leave so that both of you can feel more comfortable about your departure.
Is Your Child Ready to Stay at Home While You're Away?
Your child's readiness to stay at home - and his or her reaction to the news that you're leaving - may depend largely on your child's age.
Separation anxiety tends to be most prevalent among kids who are between 6 months and 2 years old. For kids in this age range, comfort is paramount. It's important to make sure they feel comfortable with the person whom you have chosen to babysit while you are gone and that they have the familiarity of their normal daily routines while you're away. If possible, it's better for kids at this stage to stay in their own home while parents are away rather than at another person's house.
If your child is a preschooler, he or she may not understand why you are leaving, may worry that he or she has done something wrong to make you leave, and may think that your departure is punishment. So it's important for you to assure your child that this isn't the case and explain the reason for your trip in terms that he or she can understand.
It's also common for preschoolers to react to a parent's departure by regressing to younger behaviors, such as whining or asking for a bottle. If your child reacts that way, a reminder from you that the behavior is not appropriate and ill not change your travel plans can be effective.
Elementary-school children may more directly articulate their feelings of sadness or anger about a parent's departure. Kids who are 6 to 8 years old may feel comforted by something of yours to keep close while you are gone.
Older kids, such as 9- to 12-year-olds, may seem extra-moody about a parent's departure; they may act angry one moment and clingy the next. For kids in this age group, consider scheduling activities to engage them while you are gone. It's also important to reassure them that you will miss them, too, and that you trust that the babysitter will take good care of them during your time away.
If your kids are teenagers, they may not feel like they even need a babysitter while you are traveling. If you also have younger children, you can explain that the caregiver is there because of them and ask your teen to help the babysitter look after the younger kids while you are gone.
If you have only a teen and are not comfortable with leaving him or her alone, it is important to convey your concerns and to explain why you feel more comfortable having someone else in the house.
If you do decide to leave your teen alone, establish clear rules for the time that you're away. And it's a good idea to have a friend or neighbor look in on your child while you're gone.
Preparing Your Child's Caregiver
If possible, try to have the person who will be taking care of your child come to your home before you leave. This will give your child a chance to get more comfortable with that person and your plans to go away. It will also give you a chance to review the house rules, your child's daily routines, and other important issues with that caregiver.
Things to cover with the person who will care for your kids while you're away might include:
proper use of the car seat
tips for comforting your child
babyproofing or childproofing measures that are taken in your home
rules your child follows with strangers
the layout of your house and neighborhood
what to do in the event of a fire, including directions on where the fire extinguishers and the fire detectors are in the house
what to do in the event of a medical emergency, including where and how to reach you at all times
a list of important phone numbers (see more about this below in "Leaving a Paper Trail")
a record of your child's allergies, medications, vaccinations, and medical history
where to find a flashlight and spare batteries
your travel itinerary, including the times that you might be unreachable
You may also want to leave the following items with the caregiver:
membership cards for local community centers, pools, museums, and other local attractions
a calendar of local events
cash for food and any emergencies
a full tank of gas in your car (you also may want to check the oil and tires)
a well-stocked food pantry and refrigerator
favorite toys, videotapes, and books in plain view
a new book or toy to help distract or comfort your child
Stocking the Medicine Cabinet
Consider stocking your medicine cabinet with the following items:
acetaminophen or ibuprofen
sterile gauze pads and surgical tape
If your child takes medication regularly, make sure that there is a sufficient supply and that your caregiver knows the proper procedure for administering medication.
Leaving a Paper Trail
In addition to your itinerary, it's important to leave a folder with pertinent medical information and the following phone numbers:
your child's doctor and your local hospital
police, fire, and ambulance
your child's dentist
gas/electric emergency number
health insurance company
nearest relative and neighbor
poison control center
Important medical information that should be included in the folder:
health insurance cards
your child's medical record (list allergies, current medications, height, weight, age, and vaccination history)
emergency medical consent forms (from your local hospital), which enable your caregiver to seek medical care for your child while you are away
While You Are Away
Try to check in with your child's caregiver on a regular basis, if possible. Think carefully about how much contact will comfort your child while you're away. Some kids might need postcards or a daily phone call or email message, whereas others might get more upset when they hear a parent's voice.
Consider reviewing some basic details about your travel plans with your kids before you leave. You may want to mark your travel dates on a calendar to help your child understand how long you will be gone or instruct your child's caregiver to cross off each day at bedtime.
It may comfort your child if you set up times when you will get in touch, and make sure your child has your contact information.
Be prepared for your child's behavior when you return. Young children sometimes feel angry at their parents for leaving and act out or ignore them when they return.
If this occurs, try to provide your child with the same sort of reassurance and discipline that you would in any other situation. Certainly, you should try to hug or kiss your child when you return but don't push it if your child is still angry.