Children and the holiday alone: an important moment for their growth and conquest of autonomy, but it’s not the same for everyone. Some children (or kids) are exploratory and adventurous, others more fearful and in need of reassurance; how to approach the prospect of a vacation away from mom and dad? We interviewed Prof. Anna Ogliari, Associate of Clinical Psychology at UniSR, Specialist in Clinical Psychology and Psychotherapist, who gave us some useful tips to ensure a peaceful experience, for children and parents.
What age can children go on holiday alone?
The wisest answer is: when they are ready! We must learn to follow the times of the little ones, different for each child without thinking that childhood is a period to be overcome quickly (let alone adolescence!) to become great and performing. To grow is to gain autonomy, and holidays alone (no parents, grandparents or uncles as fellow travelers, but only peers and experienced educators) are a nice step towards autonomy. Being a little alone in a new place with new people increases autonomy and favors the possibility that children experience all the skills (cognitive and emotional) they have learned up to that point.
The separation from the parents and the figures of reference and attachment must take place at a time when children, family and context (yes, everyone, including adults) are ready to support the fatigue of being away. There is no specific age to start going on holiday alone (to campuses, to school trips) but there is an expression of a desire on the part of the children and the adult’s ability to accept this desire and address it. Separation from adults is not just a “children’s issue” but it is, and quite a lot, a question of shared emotion and sometimes reflected and therefore also expressed by adults. Making them feel safe helps the little ones to be safe and aware of their abilities.
What to do on holiday alone?
You participate in organized activities, you learn to respect times and deliveries, you play and maybe even get bored. Playing and getting bored are two necessities!
In the moment of choosing the holiday and the place, it is good that the parents ascertain what is the organization of the day proposed to the children. Programs too tight can be a bit risky: so many interesting activities are certainly a good thing, but space must also be left for play and relaxation, otherwise…what holiday is it? On vacation, their interests are accommodated: with the little ones it is better to prefer holidays with “known groups” and even habitually frequented, with the older ones – used to being in a group and socializing – it is essential to support their interests (reading science, theater, foreign languages).
How long to be on vacation alone?
A time easily manageable for everyone (children and families) is one week, however when children (and parents) are steadfast in holiday experiences, two weeks can work as well, and maybe they can include a visit of the parents in the middle of the holiday.
What if children can’t make it and ask to come back?
Each child has his own modality and ability to adaptively explore new situations: there are more exploratory children and able to manage well the difficulties that a holiday alone entails and who, instead, proceeds in a somewhat more uncertain manner.
Every child misses his parent, but everyone has their own way of activating their inner resources to deal with this discomfort. Physiologically, human beings (as well as all mammals) are programmed to experience separation anxiety. In the child this appears around nine months, when one begins to explore moving (e.g. crawling). Then the separation anxiety slowly returns, but it can reappear at the moment of detachment, such as the entrance to school or, in fact, a holiday in autonomy.
If the children ask to come back, it is important that the adult maintains the control and asks for help from the educator of reference, who can tell us whether the need is real and effective or not.
Sometimes the child shows a strong discomfort only when he talks to the parent, but during the day he is serene and easily distractible. It can be useful to give him some time and see how the situation evolves. However, if the quality of sleep, appetite and daytime serenity are less, the educator himself will tell us to go and get him.