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 prepare your child before you leave so that both of you can feel more comfortable.
Are Kids Ready?
Kids' readiness to stay at home depends largely on their age. Separation anxiety is common among kids between 6 months and 2 years old. For them, comfort is vital. Make sure they'll feel comfortable with a babysitter while you're gone and keep their normal daily routines going. If possible, it's better for kids at this stage to stay in their own home while parents are away rather than at someone else's house.
Preschoolers might not understand why a parent is leaving, may worry that they've done something wrong to cause it, and might think that the separation is punishment. So it's important to assure them that this isn't the case and to explain the reason for a trip in terms they understand.
Often, preschoolers will 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 that you won't change your travel plans can be effective.
School-age kids might more directly show their feelings of sadness or anger about a parent's departure. Kids ages 6 to 8 may feel comforted by something of yours to keep close while you're gone.
Older kids may seem extra-moody about a parent's departure and act angry one moment and clingy the next. So consider scheduling activities to engage them while you're gone. It's important to reassure them that you'll miss them, too, and that you trust that the babysitter will take good care of them.
If your kids are teenagers, they might feel like they don't even need a babysitter while you're 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 teen while you're gone.
Preparing the Caregiver
If possible, try to have the person caring for your kids visit before you leave. This will help them be more comfortable with that person and your plans to go away. It's also a chance to review the house rules, the kids' daily routines, and other important issues with the caregiver.
Things to cover:
- 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 information 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
- a record of kids' allergies, medications, vaccinations, and medical history
- where to find a flashlight and spare batteries
- your travel itinerary, including times when you might be unreachable
Also consider leaving these with the caregiver:
- library cards
- membership cards for 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 (also 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
A well-stocked medicine cabinet should have:
- acetaminophen or ibuprofen
- adhesive bandages
- calamine lotion
- cool-mist vaporizer
- cotton balls/swabs
- insect repellent
- nail clippers
- sterile gauze pads and surgical tape
If your child takes medication regularly, make sure there's a sufficient supply and that your caregiver knows how to administer it.
Leaving a Paper Trail
Besides your itinerary, leave a folder with your child's medical information and these phone numbers:
- your child's doctor and your local hospital
- police, fire, and ambulance
- your pharmacy
- your dentist
- gas/electric emergency number
- health insurance company
- nearest relative and neighbor
- poison control center
- school/child-care center
Important medical information in the folder should include:
- health insurance cards
- your child's medical record (listing allergies, current medications, height, weight, age, and vaccination history)
- emergency medical consent forms (from your local hospital), which will let the caregiver seek medical care for your child while you're away
While You're Away
Check in with the caregiver regularly, 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.
Review basic details about your travel plans with your kids before you leave. You can mark your travel dates on a calendar to help them understand how long you'll be gone or instruct the caregiver to cross off each day at bedtime.
Be prepared for your child's behavior when you return. Young kids sometimes feel angry at their parents for leaving and act out or ignore them when they return.
If this happens, 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.
Reviewed by: Steven Dowshen, MD
Date reviewed: July 2011