Help Your Child Stay Away From Home

Posted: May 13, 2011

Many Indian moms are unsure about letting kids stay away from home. Here’s how you can help your child – and prepare yourself!

Nayantara Mallya

As all Indian moms are aware, parenting is a series of steps of letting your child go, from the moment the umbilical cord is first cut. Still, we’re caught unprepared by that dreaded invitation for a sleepover at a friend’s home, a field trip from school or a camping trip without Mom and Dad. The very thought is enough to send shivers through the souls of Indian moms: “What if?” and “How will she/he manage without me?” But growing up is inevitable and we must let our children create joyful memories of giggling with friends in their pyjamas or trading stories around the campfire. So, how can you prepare and help your child stay away from home?

Anupama Singh, 45, General Manager in a Bangalore media agency, has been preparing for this since 2 months. “My daughter Ananya is 12 and has spent many nights away from me, but always with a family member around.” An upcoming 21-day school trip abroad is the very first time Ananya will have to take more responsibility for herself; from passports and baggage to problem-solving should any issues arise.

Familiarity with the adults-in-charge helps

For Sandhya Vaidyanathan, 39, IT Project Manager in Arizona, sleepovers are no big deal. “My daughter Meg, now 13, has been spending nights at friends’ homes since she was 8. And my son Raul, now 10, started a bit younger than 8.”

Regarding sleepovers, Sandhya feels that a personal connection to the adults in charge is enormously helpful. “9 out of 10 sleepovers are at the homes of friends I hang out with as well. Those kids’ parents are my best friends too!”

Sleepovers at homes where she had full faith in the parents were a no-brainer for Sandhya. “But at a recent school science camp, I enlisted the help of a good friend who was volunteering on this trip to keep an eye on Raul. He brought Raul to his son’s room and let them play before he sent him back to bed. He actually took pictures and messaged them to me to give me the warm and fuzzy!”

For Anupama, a big plus is having known for years the teachers accompanying the group. “They are approachable, and sensible,” she says. Another reassuring factor is that the Headmistress is familiar with the foreign country they are going to, and knows people there, should any help be required. She adds, “The teachers will email us daily with updates and pictures, so that we can keep in touch. And the children will be allowed to call home if they’re feeling homesick.”

What parents need to check

With field trips, Sandhya makes sure that school has done the trip before. “We talked to parents who had sent their kids previously on such trips about safety and other details”, she says.

Anupama agrees. “It helps that the school has done these trips earlier. They’ve shared their experiences and lessons learnt, like to not carry too much luggage etc. Since they’re also very conscious of safety, I feel reassured. The kids will stay at one campus, not be allowed to meet relatives or friends and will wear similar T-shirts to identify them as a group. We parents know every detail of the itinerary – we’ll need that, to get through 21 days!”

Teaching kids to stay away from home

“Whether we express it or not, both parents and child have various fears and feelings, and so I feel it’s better to talk about it before the trip and give them strategies to deal with any kind of eventuality”, says Anupama. From getting lost, to feeling ill or homesick, to safety of both belongings and her own person, Anupama has ‘role-played’ with Ananya about what she could do to help herself. She feels that it’s important to play up what the child will experience and keep the focus off worries and separation anxiety.

Each child is different, and his or her parent is the best judge of whether a trip or sleepover would be a good idea or not. One big parental concern would be how the ‘group mentality’ might influence each child, to behave out of character. Anupama says, “Ananya is not a mischievous child and I feel that being in a new, unfamiliar country should dampen the high spirits of the more energetic ones in the group!

“I’ve trained my kids pretty thoroughly to stay safe in all situations. I’m pretty sure that they would apply those same basic criteria should they face any unknown situation during a sleepover or camping trip”, says Sandhya.

Staying away from home can help in teaching kids life skills

Sandhya feels the gains of camping trips have been many. “During camp or volleyball tournaments, they learned the need to pack the right stuff, be responsible for their things and bring them home safely.”

She was surprised when her daughter returned from a camp to report how she was the one who kept her things the most organized. “She said she does it on her own when there isn’t mom and dad to remind her. Raul returned from his science camp with a new appreciation of the effort that goes into having a clean bathroom and toilet!”

Anupama also feels that her daughter will learn much about self-monitoring of responsibility and tasks like dressing, eating and keeping up with the group.

When to say ‘No’

Sandhya has on some occasions said ‘No’ to her kids’ impromptu plans for sleepovers, especially when she was aware that their friends’ parents had different plans. “There has been one occasion when we had to refuse Meg a trip overseas since it was very expensive and we felt it wasn’t the right time for her. She accepted with not much of a fuss, understanding how expensive it was.”

Preparing and equipping the child is as important as checking every detail of the proposed sleepover or trip. Welcoming one’s child back home, safe and sound, after a night or more away must be the sweetest feeling in the world for a parent. Hearing about all they’ve learned and marveling at the newfound confidence will surely be a just reward for letting the child go.

I'm currently a communications specialist in the corporate world, and mom to a teen

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