Going on a school residential trip can feel understandably daunting for many children and teens. It’s a combination of fear of the unknown and being without all the familiar home comforts they typically rely on for reassurance and security. For parents it can be hard to know how best to navigate the first trip, particularly if you have a child who is anxious.
Firstly, it is important to note that residential trips are confidence building opportunities and a chance for children to step out of their comfort zone. They learn how to navigate new friendships, take on new responsibilities, experience a slice of independence, and navigate a whole host of novel situations. They may well be tears as you wave them off but if you follow my top five tips, you can be safe in the knowledge they are going to have a great time!
How do we set them up for success is
1. Take your angst out of the mix. It’s your ‘baby’s’ first overnight trip, you are understandably anxious AND your child will pick up on this. Just like their first day at school, they will cope more admirably if you keep your own emotions in check. Find someone to offload your worries to so your composure helps regulate their emotions.
2. Acknowledge your child’s fears. It’s perfectly normal to feel a little nervous about being away for the first time, and still go and have fun. Help your child name their emotions, as labelling reduces the intensity of the feeling and shifts processing away from their primitive emotional brain, to their logical brain.
3. Help your child problem solve solutions to reduce their fears. Will taking their favourite cuddly help? Sharing their fears with a teacher or a friend? Repeating a mantra ‘everyone is here to help me’? We are acknowledging the challenge and then focusing our attention on finding solutions to reduce the overwhelm – encourage the majority of solutions to come from your child not you as this will be more powerful in impact.
4. Change the narrative. We all have a voice in our head. When we are most nervous our voice is at their loudest “what if I can’t sleep?” “I will miss home too much” “what if something bad happens?” “what if I feel sick in the night?” Help your child to identify their internal nervous narrative and then shift to alternatives which might be more helpful “everyone is there to help me” “once I get started I will be fine” “I’m going to be with my friends having fun” “Everyone gets nervous and that’s alright”
5. Believe in your child’s ability to overcome. Your child won’t always feel overwhelmed by being away from home. Your unreserved confidence in their ability to overcome sets up the right balance of expectations – optimism coupled with practical tools and strategies to help.
In my fifteen plus years working with children these have been the most effective strategies I have found, but they won’t work instantly. As is the case when learning anything new, they require practice.