When my kids were young, my parents, who had retired to our cottage on Lake Huron, would take each child for a visit. For two or three days, I would have one child less than the usual three, which felt like a holiday for me. And whichever child’s turn it was to go to the lake would be treated like a guest of honour—favourite meals were prepared, favourite games were played, favourite activities were indulged. But sometimes, even in the midst of this grandparental adoration, the child missed home.
Ann Douglas, CBC’s Radio’s weekend parenting columnist, author of “Happy Parents, Happy Kids” and Bancroft-area cottager, gets it.
“Nobody seemed to get as homesick as I did,” says Douglas, recalling a miserable week at Girl Guide camp where “I missed my dad and knew I would be having more fun at the cottage.”
Here are Douglas’s tips on helping your child or cottage guest deal with missing home:
Involve the child in preparing
“None of us likes to feel as though we’re being forced to do something,” says Douglas. Encourage the child to choose some activities to take, or plan which clothes to pack.
Have realistic expectations
Perhaps start with a shorter stay, recommends Douglas. And build from there. Without frightening the child, have a conversation ahead of time letting them know that homesickness is a normal response to being away. Perhaps they might choose to pack a photograph of parents or a pet, or take an iPad with a library of family photos.
Call forth empathy
To help your homesick child or young guest, “try to remember a time in your own life when you experienced those feelings,” says Douglas. “It’s a normal rite of passage. Validate the child’s feelings, let them know those feelings make sense, then maybe share a story about how you have felt those feelings and you got through.”
Invite the child to tell you how they’re feeling
Don’t try and distract the child without first giving him or her permission to talk about those feelings. “Sometimes we have a temptation to try and shut down children’s feelings when those feelings are uncomfortable,” says Douglas. “Being able to express your feelings is a powerful way of taming that emotion.”
Encourage the child to problem-solve
Help the child figure out if there’s a particular activity they might enjoy, says Douglas. Remind them that they’ll have a story to share with their parent or pet or whomever it is they’re missing.
Ask the child, if your mom or dad was here right now, what might they say to you to comfort you, suggests Douglas. “There’s research that shows that if we can imagine the presence of a supportive other person with us, even when they’re not really there, we can be comforted by that.”