Prepare your child for the first night away from home
1. Discuss what to expect
When sleeping anywhere – whether it’s at a loved one’s house, a housemate’s house, or a multi-day camping trip – it’s important to tell your child what they can expect while away. If it’s a family member’s home or spending the night with a group, chat with the host about what’s on the board for the evening and relay those details to your child. If it’s a camping trip, discuss what to prepare, from food to shelter, bathrooms to activities. Simply knowing what they’re getting into can help ease your child’s (and your own) mind.
2. Teach boundaries and make action plans
One of the scariest things about leaving your child away from home for the first time is not being able to shield them from potential dangers. The next best thing to getting yourself really there with them is to teach your kids how to create and enforce personal boundaries. You should also come up with an action plan in case something happens or goes wrong.
“By age four, your child should be taught the difference between ‘good touch’ and ‘bad touch.’ If you’re unsure about how to start or talk to your child about inappropriate touching. If possible, ask your pediatrician to do so, but be present in the conversation so your child knows they can talk openly with you about it, too,” advises Snell.
Other personal boundaries may include a certain threshold of rough behavior (especially common among boys but not exclusive to them) and certain topics of conversation.
Your kids should memorize their names, phone numbers, and addresses (or at least put them on paper and on them) whenever they’re away from home. Also teach them how to call 911 and what circumstances warrant such a call.
3. Pack a tangible amenity item
This may seem silly, but having something familiar to keep can be comforting for your child in an unfamiliar space. This can be anything from a favorite toy or blanket to a picture.
“If your child is ready to go through the night but is worried and insecure about being away from you, I recommend putting together five to six favorite pictures of your child and putting them in a ring. Every time your child goes away. sleep, they will have this comforting reminder, your love,” Snell said. “You can also give your child a card they can read while away, or a simple drawing they can look at.”
4. Normalize your child’s discomfort
If you feel like your baby is ready for the first night — but you know they’re experiencing understandable discomfort because it’s a new experience — make sure to normalize those feelings. Don’t minimize them.
“Take a moment to talk to your child about their feelings and give your undivided attention,” says Snell. Engaging your child in this type of conversation is important because it promotes both social and emotional development.” A great time to do this is while packing for the night (or day) away.
With that said, if every day your child experiences great anxiety, fear or hesitation, it may be wise to rethink their readiness.
5. Let your child know that he can return home at any time
If your child is generally comfortable going away but is still hesitant, make sure they know that it’s completely appropriate to return home if they need or want to. In fact, ideally come up with an action plan so they feel confident they can “get out” if necessary.
“Your child shouldn’t feel pressured by you or be annoyed if at some point they realize they’re not ready to stay the night and want to go home,” says Snell.
In some situations, you may want to come up with an agreement to help them get through the initial moments of anxiety they may feel after being fired. For example, you can ask your child to wait out for an hour or two when staying overnight, or wait a day or two when going to a week-long summer camp. This will give them time to kick-start the idea and they might even realize how exciting it can be.
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