By Heidi Stevens Chicago Tribune
Question: Your 10-year-old is invited on spring break with a pal. Is that too young to travel out of town with another family?
Answer: There’s no magical age at which leaving your family for an extended period of time becomes OK, says clinical psychologist Michael Thompson, author of the upcoming “Homesick and Happy: How Time Away From Parents Can Help a Child Grow.”
“I’ve known 8-year-olds who’ve gone to sleep-away camp for a month, and other kids who weren’t ready for sleep-away camp until 12,” he says.
Which brings us to the crucial question: Does the 10-year-old want to go?
“If yes, then the second question needs to be: Has she done sleepovers before?” Thompson says. “And how did the sleepovers go? If she wants to go and she’s had sleepovers and they’ve gone well, I wouldn’t have a hesitation in the world.”
Thompson says he often asks audience members at his lectures to think about the single sweetest moment of their childhood. “Then I ask them, ‘For how many of you were your parents present?’” he says. “About 20 percent raise their hands. From the other 80 percent, you get stories like ‘I was out in the woods, away from my parents, building a dam in the stream, and it was just so exciting because the accomplishment was mine alone.’
“Sometimes a little bit of risk and a little bit of distance is very exciting for a kid.”
And when the risk is controlled (i.e., there will be a trusted set of parents on the vacation), it can be one worth taking.
“For this 10-year-old it might be one of the most independent and exciting things she’s ever done,” Thompson says. “It might leave her with a glow of confidence that will last a long time.”
But if your child doesn’t want to go, she may need you to step in and say no for her.
“If your kid is unable to do sleepovers and doesn’t have much practice being away from her parents and all of a sudden a friend says, ‘Hey, you want to go skiing in Aspen?,’ she may think, ‘Wow, that would look so uncool to say I don’t want to go,’” he says. “Then the parents should give the kid cover.”
But if you trust the family and your child is game, you may risk more by saying no than saying yes.
“Saying no risks giving them an anxious view of the world,” Thompson says. “It gives them an implicit vote of no confidence in their development and tells them, ‘You’re not capable of being without me.’ Nobody likes that.”