How to prepare tweens for their first overnight trip without you


School overnight trips, boy scout retreats, choir
tours, soccer tournaments: Often, your child’s
fi rst opportunity to travel without you pops up
around tweenhood. For parents or kids with
anxiety issues, that separation can be a major
stress. Here’s what to do:

Predict the future

Children feel less anxious when they know what
to expect. Review the itinerary with your child.
Ask what’s likely to happen on the trip, what
is most looked forward to and how a problem
might be handled, like getting separated from
the group. “That exercise gives control,” says
Dr. Tracy Vaillancourt, a psychologist at the
University of Ottawa.

Make a list, check it twice

Help your kid create a list of what to pack, and
other trip requirements like buying a fl ashlight
or uniform shirt. This, too, will help your child
prepare and feel in control. The packing list can
include familiar objects to help connect with
home, like a teddy bear.

Get the goods on getting in touch

Provide a cell phone and exchange text messages
before bed. Kids should be reminded that in an
emergency, teachers will phone parents. Kids
will also likely be allowed to call home if they’re
truly distressed and need reassurance. “A lot of
times parents don’t want to mention that, because
they’re worried their kids will be so anxious they’ll
be calling home every night,” Dr. Vaillancourt
says. But she points out that for most kids,
that’s not likely to happen once they see no
other students are on the phone with their folks.

Remind kids about their buddies

Your child will be travelling with a pack of kids
who may worry about missing home, getting
lost or hating what’s served for breakfast.
Remind your child that there are friends to
talk to, if needed.

Cite a few safety tips

Don’t forget to pack the safety must-haves,
like a list of emergency phone numbers.
Remember that in a dynamic outside the
classroom, bullying can become a risk.
Tell organizers in advance if there are any
classmates that don’t mix well with your kid,
so they can keep an eye on them. “If you know
that Jessica bugs your daughter at school, it’s
not going to get any better on a class trip. But
teachers can’t change what they don’t know,”
says Dr. Vaillancourt.

Manage your anxiety

“Parents need to
manage their anxiety, because it’s contagious,”
says Dr. Vaillancourt. “The kid’s anxiety feeds
upon their anxiety.” Get the reassurances you
need by asking organizers questions, such
as how to reach the group in an emergency
or if the chaperones have had background
checks. However, don’t feel you have to force
a brave face. “Parents can’t be so stoic that
the child feels it’s unnatural to be anxious,”
Dr. Vaillancourt notes. “But you don’t want
the child to be nervous about something they
don’t need to be nervous about.”

When it’s anxiety disorder:

  • If your child seems
    hugely distressed by the
    idea of separation, then
    it may be best to skip
    the trip.
  • Forcing the issue
    could cause more harm
    than good, says Tracy
    Vaillancourt, a University
    of Ottawa psychologist.
  • “A lot of times,
    parents get really
    frustrated by their child’s
    anxiety because they
    don’t recognize it as
    a true mental health
    issue.” Sure, a trip away
    from Mom and Dad can
    be a positive experience,
    and a chance to build
    independence. But
    in cases of extreme
    anxiety, it may not be
    appropriate.

Originally published in ParentsCanada magazine, July 2013

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