As parents we try to respect our children in our day-to-day lives and in the choices we make. At home this is a whole lot easier than when you’re on the road, travelling or temporarily find yourself living away from home or with other people, something that happens to the best of us and for a variety of reasons.
We’ve spent a few months living with my family in a different country away from our home while I help in the care of my ill mother, and being away from our home, friends, groups and routines has taught me a lot about children, their adaptability, and how their place of priority up or down the list affects their behaviour.
The first thing, the most important thing, we’ve found, is to create a safe space for your toddler in the new environment. As we walk in to a new place, be it a hotel or a family member’s home, one of my first priorities is to create a hidey-hole. For us that was a computer desk with a large tablecloth draped over it. That’s where Ameli puts the toys she doesn’t want anyone else to play with and stashes her favourite read-to-herself books.
The next thing is to get to know the environment. What’s in the area? What sections of the house are off limits? Setting boundaries from the get-go prevents shouting or moaning later on, especially if there are elderly family members around who aren’t accustomed to small children, or there are differences in parenting approaches. A good rule of thumb with people’s rooms is “If the door is closed, they don’t want visitors, but if the door is open, you’re welcome in.”
Once everyone’s in and knows what’s where, it’s valuable to decide which of your routines from home are important for this period of time, and to stick to them as much as possible. You are in a different environment, however, and children are adaptable, so go to the beach at what would normally be bath and bed time – falling asleep in the car one night won’t ruin an established routine forever.
Take out your diary and schedule in a little bit of family-only time every day. Especially if you’re on holiday “back home,” it’s really easy to have a full calendar from breakfast through to after-dinner drinks. This can be really overwhelming for little people, so schedule an hour or two in your diary every day to just “be” together, without other people. It may seem like a “waste” of time in an otherwise busy period, but actually you’ll all benefit from a bit of down time, and your children will be much happier for the quality time, too.
Depending on how long you’re staying, it can also be really helpful to have reminders of home to show especially toddlers that home is still there. My husband and 3-year-old regularly talk on Skype, and he builds Lego, potters about the play kitchen, and reads books from her bookshelf to her to show her that it’s all still there. She also really enjoys looking at videos of our home surrounds on my phone. It seems to give her a sense of connection and grounding, and she’s comforted knowing that it’s all there when we can go home.
All circumstances are different, and no two reasons are the same, but by following our children’s cues, listening to what they’re saying to us, and respecting their needs, your time away from home doesn’t have to be stressful or difficult at all. Above all, remember that the where, why, and how matters much less to a child than the “who” — and if they can remain grounded in your presence, they will remain grounded in themselves.