Updated: Dec 24, 2021
Step by step guide, tips, and rules to follow
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There are a lot of changes happening in not only your life after your cancer diagnosis, but also in your child’s life. Children thrive in an atmosphere of routine; therefore, this time period can be hard on your little one. The good news? Children are resilient. That means that they can adapt. All you have to do is introduce the changes in a manner that makes your child feel safe and secure.
In this blog post, I’ll be giving an example of how to ease into the transition of staying the night at a sitter’s house (I use Grandma’s house for an example) on a regular basis. I’ll be giving the following tips as though your child has never spent the night away from you before, in order to cover all separation anxiety possibilities/tactics. You’ll of course, adapt these steps to best suit your child’s needs and comfort level. Your child may already be use to spending the night away from you, if that’s the case, you’ll have an easier time of adjustment.
First, in order to make the steps below effective, you’ll need to always follow these 3 rules:
Rule 1: It’s important to keep the sense of excitement alive about each step below. If you show excitement, your child is more likely to follow suit.
Rule 2: Don’t forget Travel Teddy (explained below).
Rule 3: If you’re not spending time there as a family, make the drop off quick (explained below).
Those 3 rules help set the expectations, which in turn lend to an easier transition. They can make all the difference in the process, so be sure to keep them in mind.
Now, let’s jump right in.
1. Travel Teddy
Together, designate one special toy, for example a stuffed bear as the "Travel Teddy". Make this a BIG DEAL, make it fun, and explain its use. They will take it along each time they visit Grandma’s, as well as bring the Travel Teddy back home when they return. This will help the child feel a sense of consistency, routine, as well as give a sense of security by having something you picked out together to travel back and forth with.
2. Dinner Together
Go as a family and have dinner at Grandma’s house, make sure it’s a meal your child enjoys eating. I suggest having the dinner at Grandma’s actual house rather than at a restaurant, to help your child feel comfortable in that setting. While there, include your child in making plans of something fun to do together the next time you visit. Plan on it being an all-day event that you will also be in on, at your parents’ actual house, and something your child is sure to love. Remind your child of the exciting plans until the day comes.
3. The Whole Day
When the day arrives, spend the day there with your child and your parents. Make it a point to include Travel Teddy in your daily activities. Reserve a special place for him at the dinner table, include him in on games, make sure he’s watching the movie…whatever it is you’re doing, make sure he’s doing it too. While there, explain to your child that you will be having a sleep over party as a family at your parents’ house on the next visit (you will be there too). Include them in making plans, such as what movie to watch or letting them choose a meal or game. Again, remind your child with excitement of the plans until the sleepover party date arrives.
4. Pack Bag Together
Pack an overnight bag together, packing some special items for Travel Teddy as well. Let them choose some items to pack, giving them a sense of control and ownership in decision making. Make sure to pack essential items that will be left there (blanket, pillow, toothbrush...), so that they feel more at comfortable and at home on future trips without you. It’s also a lot easier on you to not have to worry about packing everything each time.
5. Join in on First Sleepover
Spend the night with them as a "fun sleepover". Again, include Travel Teddy in all activities (teeth brushing, tucking in). While there, include them in making plans of something fun for them to do with Grandma alone. Plan on an activity that will take a couple of hours and will happen at Grandma’s house. Maybe a fun art activity, swimming in the backyard pool, or helping plant some flowers. Remind your child of their fun plans with Grandma until that day comes.
6. Alone a Few Hours
Have them spend a couple of hours there alone while you go to an appointment, get groceries, or simply go home and nap. To avoid a meltdown when you separate from your child, make sure to build up the excitement. During drop off, give some quick comforting words if needed (“You have Travel Teddy”, “I’ll be back in a little bit”, “You’re going to have so much fun!”), and leave. Do not linger. It makes it harder and draws out the crying. They will stop crying, when they realize crying doesn’t make you stay. If you stay because they are crying, it will make it harder next time. At pick up, make sure that you are the one picking them up (gives them a sense of trust that you will do as you say). Spend some time there with them, hearing about the fun things they did. Talk about the positive things in front of them, leave the talk about the crying to be had for a later time without lingering ears. While there, ask them what they would like to do with Grandma the next time they spend the night. Make the plans fun and ultra-exciting (this is where you pull out the big guns). Depending on how your child is handling the transitions, it’s up to you whether or not to explain and prep them for spending the night there without you. If you do decide to do so, you can reinforce the excitement of Travel Teddy being there, reassure them that it’s just for a little while, and talk about some fun things you’ve done together there as a family. Be sure to give reminders of the upcoming night in a fun and exciting way.
7. Alone Sleepover
For the first night away, their essential items are already there, Travel Teddy is underarm and ready, and you’re showing excitement for what they will do at Grandma’s. Make drop off quick, following the same tips as above. Remember, the longer you linger the harder it is in the long run. You’re not a bad parent for leaving them there. You’re doing the right thing by taking time to heal, rest, and have some you time. You have to take care of yourself in order to be able to care for your child. At pick up, make sure to chat excitedly about the fun things they did. Remind them of the fun they had at Grandma’s continually until the next overnight stay.
Make fun plans each time they are to stay at Grandma’s. Try to make the plans things that truly excite them. I suggest special things there that they can’t do at home (buy a kiddie pool that stays there, allow a treat for breakfast, new messy art activity such as splatter painting).
Build the excitement. Remind them of their fun plans for the next visit. Remind them of the fun they had last time. Smile, laugh, and talk with an excited tone to build anticipation.
What you can keep consistent, keep consistent. Don’t forget Travel Teddy. Have quick drop offs. Be the one to always pick them up if at all possible.
Don’t show you’re sad when you drop off, even if you go to the car and cry right after drop off, don’t let them see.
If your child is having a particularly rough time at it, adapt as necessary, but remember…stay the course. Don’t give in and pick them up early. It will get easier. Some steps may need repeated a few times in order to have a successful visit.
Time may be of essence here since oncologists like to move quickly once diagnosed to avoid any spreading of cancer, but try to plan it out giving sufficient time in between visits for the child to understand home is still home and visiting and overnight stays are nothing to fear. The point is,the more gradual the process is to introduce the change, the better. However, don’t go too long between stays, as this could diminish the progress you’ve made.
Once established, make it a routine for them to stay there regularly. Once a week is a good baseline to start at, however as time goes on the frequency may increase as you might find you need more time. I do not suggest decreasing the frequency under once a week.
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