Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Traveling with kids: 7 ways to stay in touch & handle separation anxiety

The thing about traveling is that a lot of times you're not just traveling to something and someone, but also away from something and someone, and that can be tough on kids and adults.

Saying goodbye
Separation anxiety is never easy to deal with, and kids can react strongly when they have to say goodbye to someone they love. For example, my son won't say goodbye or hug his grandparents when they have to go back to Sweden after staying with us for a few weeks. It's not that he doesn't love them, quite the opposite! Instead, it's like he's trying to prevent the goodbye by refusing to say it.

This weekend my kids will have to say goodbye to their dad as we set out on our trip to Sweden. They are very excited about seeing their grandparents, but I know how much they will miss their dad too. And that sadness will hit them at some point, whether it's when we say goodbye at the airport, or later on the flight, or once it's bedtime in Sweden and they realize daddy really won't be there with them for a while.

Staying in touch
There are lots of ways to stay in touch and ease separation anxiety as well as homesickness. It's good to have some of these ideas planned out ahead of time, whether you're going away from your kids and want to stay in touch with them, or they are going away with you and you want to stay in touch with family members who live far away.

If your kids feel sad and down, having something to do in order to keep a connection to the person you've left behind can really help them (and you) feel better.

Here are some ideas on how you can stay in touch:

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1. Send postcards and letters
Old-school snail-mail can be a lot of fun for kids: envelopes, stamps, mailboxes... all of that can be a huge thrill. My kids send postcards to some of their friends when we go away, and when we go to Sweden without their daddy, we send him postcards too. Older kids who can write might enjoy putting together letters, once a week and mailing them to a loved one or a friend. Just remember to bring addresses for the people you want to mail cards and letters to.

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2. Send drawings
If your kids like drawing pictures, they can make a drawing every day or every other day. Then you gather the drawings up either to be mailed or given to someone who did not come on your trip (or to someone who went away).

3. Use an online chat or video-chat
If you have family who lives far away, you're might have already done this. It requires a computer and web-camera of course, but kids usually love it because they can both see and hear the other person (goofing around with the grandparents is easier when they can see you goofing after all!). Remember that both you and the person you're "calling" have to have the same software program installed for this to work. Skype and Sightspeed are two options.

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4. Keep a journal
I try my best to keep a diary or journal when we go on trips, and it can be fun to include the kids in the journal-keeping. Have them tell you what they loved best about that particular day. Maybe they can add a drawing or write a journal entry themselves too. Write down what you did during the day, what the weather was like. Talk to your kids about how you can show the journal to friends and family members who are not on the trip with them.

5. Keep a blog
A blog can work as an online journal that can be shared more immediately than a pen and paper one. If you're going on a long trip with your kids, or if you're going away from them for a long time, you could set up a blog for them and you to post stories, thoughts, and pictures on. It's a great way to share your experiences with each other. Blogger (which is what I use for this blog) and Tumblr are two options. 

6. Share photos in an online photo-album
Set up a photo album (Photobucket and Flickr are a couple of options), and let your children help you take and choose photos and videos to share with friends and family while you're on your trip.

7. Make a phone call
Yes, so very obvious, especially these days when pretty much everyone has a cellphone. If you're traveling outside your home country, remember to check with your service provider a) if you can use your phone in the country you're going to, and b) how much the calls will cost you, especially if you're traveling far away from home. Rates for international calls can be astronomical, but often cell-phone providers have lower-cost options you can apply for before you go.

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