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Preparing young child for parent being away

  • 03-01-2023 3:06pm
    Registered Users Posts: 208 ✭✭ ElizaBennett

    Hi, would love some good advice on how to handle an impending trip my sister is taking when I and other siblings will be taking care of her 5 year old son.

    Some background here: my sister lost her husband just over a year ago, when her son was 3 and a half. Her husband had been ill for about a year. She has an older child who will be going with her on the trip abroad. Because of this awful loss, she has probably been more lenient with the little guy and his behaviour is not great (though he's actually far far better behaved with other adults than with his mum.) He gets a lot of toys and indulgences and not a lot of discipline. I'm a bit concerned about how we all handle the separation (just over a week so not very long but she'll be abroad.) My preference would be to give him some advance warning but not a lot (eg not so much that he's obsessing for weeks in advance.) I'd also like to frame it as a good thing in that he'll have fun times with his aunties etc. His mum is leaning towards not telling him where she's going (a family trip to visit relatives abroad) in case he's upset by that or feeling jealous but i'm strongly against lying to him and want to find a way to be honest with him while keeping him happy.

    so just general advice on this would be great. Eg what's the appropriate time to tell him, what do we tell him, how do we treat the whole absence period etc. My sister will fuss a lot and will likely want to video call a lot and make an enormous fuss as she's leaving and I genuinely don't know the right thing to do here - other than my instincts. my own kids are young adults now. I want him to have a great time while she and his older sister are away and to not have time to miss them. I intend to make that happen but I'm worried my sister's guilt over not brining him on the trip will cause her to do things in a way that will be ultimately a negative experience for him. thank you x


  • Registered Users Posts: 203 ✭✭ SmallgirlBigcity

    I think your way of dealing with it sounds good. The fact that he lost his dad will most likely affect his anxiety about her leaving so it's a good idea to keep that in mind.

    I think his mother should prepare him about 2 or 3 days in advance. There's a good episode of the cartoon Daniel Tiger that talks about how parents always come back after leaving for a trip or a night away. Might be a good idea to show him that.

    If something big is going to happen, I usually prepare my 3 year old son well in advance with books and TV shows if possible. I agree that when she's leaving, it should be a quick, confident, happy goodbye. Rather than a long drawn out one. You sound like a fantastic aunty for him.

  • Registered Users Posts: 203 ✭✭ SmallgirlBigcity

    I also don't think she should video call. It probably depends on the child but my instincts are also that it'll only upset him.

  • Registered Users Posts: 203 ✭✭ SmallgirlBigcity

    Oh apologies, I've just realised that he's 5,not 3. Video calling at that age will probably be fine then.

  • Registered Users Posts: 208 ✭✭ ElizaBennett

    Thanks for your kind advice and I like the idea of a book or cartoon on the theme of parents being away and coming back. That's a great idea. I'm going to look for that show and see if there's a good book available too. You're so right to point out he might feel it more because of him Dad's death and I definitely need to handle with care. Thanks x

  • Registered Users Posts: 1,493 ✭✭✭ JDD

    I'd be on the side of prepping him first as well. Children like routine, and if it's going to be upset they need plenty of warning. Their ability to pivot to new circumstances develops as they get older, but at five he would find it very difficult to adjust to new surroundings at the last minute.

    If I were his mum, I'd tell the truth about going abroad but I wouldn't describe it as a holiday. I would say that I had not seen my relatives (or perhaps it is the husband's relatives?) for a long time and that they were overdue a visit. Paint it so the visit is going to be quite boring, full of adults and no fun days out. Tell him that the older sibling is coming because it is time he got to know his relatives better, and he'll have to come when he's a bit older, but for now your letting him have a fun week at his aunty's house. Preferably have this conversation after he's been babysat by one of ye, in your house, and had a great time. Actually, ideally after he's had a sleepover, so that he can picture where he's going to sleep and everything - unless of course sleepovers are a regular thing.

    I wouldn't over talk about it though. Tell him a week in advance, and then only talk about it if he raises it. And be very matter of fact. Kids take their cue from us. If Mum doesn't think it's a big deal, he will likely cause less of a fuss.

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  • Registered Users Posts: 208 ✭✭ ElizaBennett

    Thanks, JDD, that's very helpful. We don't have regular sleepovers at mine as I'm so busy with work and quite far away but he has done it often enough to know it's a good thing and is familiar with routines at my house, bedroom, etc etc.

    I think that's a good idea, a little bit of notice, a version of the truth - as in, the more boring version, so no one needs to get caught up in knots with unnecessary lies. The visit is to our older sister but there won't be kids there and she has dogs (which he's not fond of) so it will be easy enough to paint a boring picture for him:) So I think what i need to do is think up a couple of really fun outings or activities that we'll be doing so he'll feel like the lucky one. Cheers!