Advice for 10-year-old who wants to go home
May 25, 2015 11:38 AM   Subscribe

We are taking care of our neice, who is 10 years old, on our family vacation. Her mom, a single parent, needed help this week so we offered. We knew neice had some separation anxiety, but we were assured that neice was much better and excited about the trip. Unfortunately, neice has been very unhappy at certain times and last night (our first full day here) she sobbed for an hour and begged to go home.

It has been determined by mom and us that she will stay here for the week. I am looking for coping strategies for when neice gets anxious. I understand anxiety, but I am trying to navigate the best way to handle this temporary situation. I am not the parent and want to be appropriate, but firm. I realized today that one area I need to work on personally is not to say yes to neice just to try and make her happy. But more specifically I would like ways to reassure her and help manage her anxiety, and what to say to her, especially at bedtime.

Last night I wasn't sure what her mom would want to do, so I just validated her feelings, told her that I would never tell someone that they weren't entitled to how they felt, but we could talk about how to handle those emotions. I tried to get her to provide an example of how she calmed herself when she felt this way and her only example was getting in her mom's bed. Clearly we need to find something else for the next week. Her mom has provided no options or assistance, mom is not open to therapy and is unfamiliar with the types strategies or language associated with therapy. Mom's handling is to ignore or accommodate. I believe Mom will leave her here, mostly as we are so far away. We did talk to Mom and she says child will remain with us, I can't be guaranteed that, but we are 12 hours from their home, so that is a big factor in everyone's thinking.

I am open to advice, or examples, if you have handled this type of situation before. I wouldn't say no to some reassurances either! Thanks.
posted by dawg-proud to Human Relations (20 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
 
I think part of this is the fear of unexpected/lack of familiarity with routine. For bedtime specifically, can you have her describe her at-home bedtime routine, then(together) walk through her at-your-house bedtime routine? That way she can clearly defin e what is going to be different, and what is going to be similar.
posted by samthemander at 11:44 AM on May 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Oh, wow, it sounds like you're doing a great job! As a former anxious child, I can go ahead and vouch they there was NOTHING you could have done in a week to "fix"' me. This might just be something that gets a little better as the week goes on but doesn't go away.

One thing I can offer is that if she doesn't want to do things - "I don't want to go" "I'm not hungry" etc - is to just plow ahead and take her with, give her a plate of food, etc. I remember both wanting to shrink myself down until I disappeared, and hoping that if I was just uncooperative enough, everybody would just leave me alone or take me home. At the same time, I felt super left out if they really did just leave me to rot like I acted like I wanted.
posted by Juliet Banana at 11:54 AM on May 25, 2015 [35 favorites]


+1 plan-things-and-keep-to-the-plan, to paraphrase JB
posted by j_curiouser at 12:06 PM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


Whoa, hold up. This following line of discussion makes zero sense to have with her: told her that I would never tell someone that they weren't entitled to how they felt, but we could talk about how to handle those emotions. Why would you even bring up "I won't tell you you aren't entitled to feel sad." Of course you wouldn't say that to a 10 year old child. Furthermore, telling her "lets talk about how to handle your emotions" is really isolating for her to hear. She is sad because she is away from the security and care of the person she is most attached to for the first time. She doesn't need "therapy talk"; she needs to feel cared for and secure. You are not her therapist, you are the temporary guardian/caretaker. When she is sobbing and feeling scared, provide closeness, hugs, reassurance, bond. In the down times of the trip (evenings, etc.) try to divert her from wallowing in sadness and see if you can do something fun, bond, talk. Get a pack of cards and play card games, watch a movie with her in the hotel, go out for dessert- something to get those happy emotions rolling. Her mom has provided no options or assistance ---> You be the mom.
posted by incolorinred at 12:08 PM on May 25, 2015 [34 favorites]


Could she speak to her mommy on the telephone every day before going to sleep?
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:20 PM on May 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


I would let her call her mother on the phone as much as needed. My stepdaughter experienced some sad separation stuff when she first started coming, and just the offer to let her call her Mom seemed to help quite a bit. Let her say goodnight to her mom. Let her Mom tell her that she's on a grand vacation. Maybe you take lots of pictures to remind her that she's a traveling young woman? If nothing else, a few phone calls throughout the week should help a little.
posted by Grlnxtdr at 12:23 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I don't think there is any good to be gained in pathologising this as a child's anxiety or a mother's special failure. She's 10 years old. She's homesick. It's utterly normal, as anyone who has ever worked at summer camp can tell you. It has zero to do with you or how much she is enjoying or not enjoying this trip. And it's almost always bedtime that is the worst for it, too.

All you can do is validate her feelings ("I know you miss your mom a lot, I'm sorry you're so sad right now"), give her things to look forward to other than going home, and some kids find it helpful to include a parent in their whole holiday: "You could save that shell / email that photo / save that bead / I bet your mom would like it!"
posted by DarlingBri at 12:26 PM on May 25, 2015 [48 favorites]


I have a 9yo boy. Separation anxiety is totally normal! He did a two night school trip last week and I think every kid made it because they powered through together and they had their stuffies and each other and their beloved teacher and were exhausted. Which is to say, don't turn her perfectly reasonable situational sadness into more than it is. Offering to call or text mom during the week is a place to start, but beware that it works for some kids and doesn't for others. Every "goodbye" can start another round of missing her. Think of things to distract her and don't give her too much choice because in this situation it can invite paralyzing introspection and worry.
- "You miss Mom? Yeah of course you do. Let's watch a movie and make sure we do something fun to take your mind off of it."
- "Let's build a nest or fort!"
- "Let's bake Bedtime Banana Bread!"
- "Let's make a special you-and-me bedtime activity [like a special book you loved as a kid] because we don't get to see each other often."
- "Let's have dance party and then read a special book together!"
- "Let's make Mom a card!"
- "Let's get some chalk and draw on the sidewalk."

You get the idea. A lot of "Let's" to distract her, plus hugs when she needs them, and reassurances everyone gets homesick and it will get easier.
posted by cocoagirl at 12:27 PM on May 25, 2015 [9 favorites]


What are the sleeping arrangements on this vacation? When I was a very anxious 9 year old child staying the night with another family, I freaked out and could not stop crying. Every member of that family, parents and kids, dragged their mattresses into the living room and we all slept on our mattresses "camping out" in the living room together. It helped a lot. That was over 30 years ago and I still remember how absolutely awesome that family was. So maybe try something like that?
posted by hazyjane at 12:28 PM on May 25, 2015 [11 favorites]


Maybe she would like to make a scrapbook to take home to her mom. That would be something she could do while thinking about her mom, and making her an awesome gift... but it would also mean that she would need to take pictures, collect stuff and so on, and it would maybe help her see the fun in the here and now. It's something I really enjoyed doing when I was her age.
Don't use the prefab scrapbook stuff if you can help it... just collect little things from places you go to, like postcards, ticket stubs and sugar packages and have her stick them in a book. Get her some pencils or felt tip pens so she can draw in it, too.
posted by Too-Ticky at 12:35 PM on May 25, 2015 [12 favorites]


We knew neice had some separation anxiety, but we were assured that neice was much better and excited about the trip. Unfortunately, neice has been very unhappy at certain times and last night (our first full day here) she sobbed for an hour and begged to go home...Last night I wasn't sure what her mom would want to do...I believe Mom will leave her here, mostly as we are so far away. We did talk to Mom and she says child will remain with us, I can't be guaranteed that...

It sounds like maybe managing your own emotions before managing the 10yo's might be helpful. It sounds like you offered to take the niece for a week, but were counting on a fun vacation with her while helping out the mom, not a mopey ten year old wishing her mom was with her - and that now, you kind of want to give her back so that she'll be happy again, even though you are ostensibly doing this for the mom and it's something the mom needs.

Children of single parents are much closer to their parents than those with two parents, for a lot of reasons, and tend to miss them more sometimes. My daughter had terrible separation anxiety the first week of summer camp. The solution is, counter-intuitively, NOT to let them have as many phone calls with mom as possible - they will cling on and not really let themselves have a good time. Camp generally offers one phone call a week and multiple letters, which I think you could maybe kick up to two phone calls for the week and some letters with good effect. And it's hard for the kids at first, but it works. When I came to get my daughter from summer camp, she was happy and excited and confident and more independent. (I was a single parent)
posted by corb at 12:36 PM on May 25, 2015 [4 favorites]


Her mom has provided no options or assistance, mom is not open to therapy and is unfamiliar with the types strategies or language associated with therapy.

I don't understand this part. Are you suggesting to the mom that you take the niece for therapy while you're on vacation?

If I were the niece, I would love to have a hidey hole. Say.....like a blanket fort. That would be the perfect spot for me to feel sheltered and secure. There would be coloring books and pillows in there and whatever stuffed animals and things she would like. A cool little lamp or flashlight, too.

It sounds like an extremely stressful time for both her and for you, and it's a shame that your family vacation is being sidelined because of it. You should not have to work so hard on your vacation, and while I don't have any advice for you I just wanted to let you know I feel for you. It sounds like a bit of a crappy situation and you're a very nurturing person to put yourself out there like this. Please take some time to make sure that you too are being nurtured, it sounds like you need it!
posted by the webmistress at 12:36 PM on May 25, 2015 [3 favorites]


Set up a calendar & count down the days. Knowing for sure she will be going home and when might help. My niece came all the way to the US to visit me with her Grandma not much older than that, what helped a lot was keeping a journal of all the new things she did each day to show friends & family when she got back home, also having a pet of mine to snuggle each night before she went to bed helped. Also routine, each morning we had breakfast like so, each night bed time was handled the same, within 3 nights she was feeling much more comfortable as she was learning the new routine. I know it's only for a week but routine, routine, routine, include her in planning the new routine. So she knows when she goes to Aunts/Uncles house she'll have x for breakfast, they take the dogs for a walk after breakfast or whatever works for you guys. It will really help a lot.
posted by wwax at 12:39 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


Oh, I just saw the 'on our family vacation' bit. I think this was an extremely well-meaning, but poor plan. So you're torn between competing needs of dealing with the niece, and also letting your own family have fun? Are you on the road somewhere or are you in one place?
posted by corb at 12:45 PM on May 25, 2015


I will just as a note that a phone call every night (FaceTime) had been decided on ahead of time and that there are for sure pros and cons with that plan, but that is what will be happening, so I will focus on the positive aspects and maybe have us list fun things we did that day so that neice might have some fun things to share with mom.

Also I apologize if it sounded like I wanted to do some sort of therapy, I was trying to head off suggestions of therapy. I am looking for temporary solutions that might help her have a nice time. We cuddled in her bed last night, a room she is sharing with my two daughters. And I wanted to maybe have something kind and appropriate to say during that time and perhaps also during calm times. Lots of good suggestions. I really appreciate the advice. She is a very sweet girl and I just hope to support her.

We are on a family vacation and are in one place for the week. She is super excited right now as I was just able to make a hair appointment for tomorrow to get a streak of color in her hair, just like her aunt!
posted by dawg-proud at 12:50 PM on May 25, 2015 [15 favorites]


A key question in how you handle this - does she know why she is there? I had to have my daughter with someone else while I was deployed, and my daughter reacted really well to reminders that her relaxing and having a good time helped mom.

Things like 'Your mom is going to be so proud of you/want to hear all about this/etc' also tend to help somewhat. My family would also use these times to tell somewhat embarrassing 'when your mom was a kid' stories which would both a) help her feel closer to me and b) let her feel like she was getting some Secret and Special information that she would only get in my absence.
posted by corb at 1:04 PM on May 25, 2015 [12 favorites]


I worked at various different summer camps and programs for a long time, and in my experience the number one anecdote to homesickness is the kid having fun in the new place and experiencing new cool things. So make sure you have activities for your niece to do, and don't give her too much down-time the first couple of days, because she'll probably go very quickly from bored to homesick.

Also, I think it's okay to acknowledge her feelings when she's feeling sad, but in my experience, long talks about how the kid is feeling because they miss their mom, or dad, or pet goat, etc, doesn't help much and just makes them feel more sad. Just like with adults: wallowing in your misery satisfies a certain itch, but it doesn't actually make you feel any better. So better to acknowledge it and move on. At bedtime "moving on" might mean reading her a story, or tucking her in the way she likes to be tucked, etc.
posted by colfax at 1:32 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


I was pretty bad at at that age, and I can see now that "I want to go home" was the only phrase I had, at 10, to say "I'm in unfamiliar territory and it's making me anxious and I want the discomfort to stop." I'd do it even with my parents, if we were staying in a hotel or (still the worst for me) staying in someone's home. I was a very routine-oriented kid, especially around sleep, and it always filled me with dread to do stuff like share a room or have weird lights or not know if I could ask for help if I had a problem in the night.

What helped a LOT was to frequently review and rehearse the plan, with emphasis on things that were familiar. Here's your water bottle if you're thirsty, here's the bathroom with the nightlight, we're going to have a snack and then tuck you in and tomorrow we're going to have breakfast and go [do X] and [see Y], remember how we watched that video about Y?

It'll probably burn out some as she gets accustomed to the place you're staying, since you'll be there all week. It sounds like she's getting the hang of it already.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:24 PM on May 25, 2015 [1 favorite]


She is super excited right now as I was just able to make a hair appointment for tomorrow to get a streak of color in her hair, just like her aunt!

Bingo.
posted by Cosine at 3:42 PM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


I also dealt with a lot of similar (very normal) homesickness like this as a camp counselor and adminstrator. You've got a lot of excellent advice above, but the one thing I see that you could add is confidence-building language. For instance, "I can tell that you miss your mom, but we also know that you are someone who can make it through those tough moments." Also, affirm that everyone has these moments. If you have a story (or your daughters do?) about homesickness that you endured, and how glad you were in the end to do the things you did and have those memories, it will also help further normalize what can be an isolating experience. It is comforting just to know that feeling that way is something most people go through, but that even though there are some sad moments, they make it through, and it's all right in the end.
posted by Miko at 8:22 PM on May 25, 2015 [2 favorites]


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