QUESTION: Our 13-year-old daughter has been invited to go on a vacation with her best friend’s family at the end of the summer. She is so excited about being invited, but we’re a bit uneasy about letting her go. We’re very fond of her friend and the family seems quite nice, but we really don’t know the parents well. We’re unsure how to proceed with this decision. We’re not even sure how to talk about the financial arrangements with the friend’s parents. What’s the best way to handle this?
ANSWER: I encourage you to invite the friend and her parents to your home – or out to a restaurant – for coffee and a candid talk about this. Start with a warm thank you for the kind invitation for your daughter to travel with them. Let them know how much you enjoy their daughter and the close friendship the two girls have developed. Then follow up with an open-ended question about exactly what they have in mind for this vacation. Ask them for details about the travel plans, where they will stay, what activities they have planned, and how they would want your daughter to cover her share of the expenses.
You have no need to feel self-conscious about your reluctance to let your daughter travel without you. So you should feel free to ask very specific questions about the kinds of rules and expectations the parents have for the girls’ behavior on the trip, how they intend to enforce their rules, and what kind of supervision they will provide throughout the vacation. If the situation were reversed, they probably would have the same kinds of questions and concerns. If, at this point in the discussion, you are feeling open to the possibility of your daughter going on the trip, communicate clearly to the other family what your own conditions and expectations would be.
Finally, after all your questions have been answered, take as much time as you need to think over the decision and talk about it within your family. If, for whatever reasons, you decide you’re still not comfortable letting your daughter go, graciously let the other family know again how much you appreciate their invitation but that you just don’t feel your daughter is ready yet to go on a vacation without you. And be clear and firm with your daughter about your reasons. Remember that you are the parents, and it is your job to make decisions that protect your daughter’s well-being. No doubt she will be disappointed and unhappy in the short run, but in the long run, she will know you had her best interests at heart.
On the other hand, if you do decide to let your daughter go, tell her clearly and precisely what you expect of her – how and when she should check in with you during the trip, and how you want her to handle financial arrangements throughout the vacation. Let her know that this is a significant step toward greater independence and that it demonstrates your trust in her. Then let the other parents know what you have told your daughter so that they can support her in meeting your expectations.
It may ease your mind to know that one of my nicest memories from my teen years is a trip I took with a friend and her family. And when my own son and daughter were teenagers, we took young friends on vacation with us several times. In fact, much to our delight, one of the friends we took along with us is now our daughter-in-law!
When’s an accident just an accident?
QUESTION: My 3-year-old daughter has been potty trained for several months, but in the past two weeks she’s had “accidents” daily. Her elfish grin when she tells me she “didn’t make it” suggests she may be trying to get my attention. What’s up?
ANSWER: It’s hard to know for sure why your daughter has slipped lately, but there are a few things you might consider. She may indeed be trying to get your attention, especially if you’ve been unusually busy or preoccupied, or if anything in her life is making her feel a little less secure than usual. Has there been a change in your family schedule? A change in her daily activities now that summer is here? Is there a new baby or some other major change in your family? If that is the case, it will be important to give your daughter some extra attention, maybe setting aside special times for cuddling, reading, playing or going out together.
Also, be sure to let her know how proud you are when she stays dry – maybe checking every half hour or so and saying, “Good job of staying dry.” If she does have an accident, be very quick and matter-of-fact about dealing with the mess so that she’s not reinforced in using that as an attention-getter. Toilet training can become an arena for a major power struggle between parents and toddlers, but if you take a low-key approach, there will be little for your daughter to struggle against.
There may be other reasons for your daughter’s lapse in toilet training. For example, 3-year-olds sometimes get very caught up in their activities and truly do forget to take a bathroom break. Probably when you first were training your daughter, you prompted her to go to the potty. It may be time for a refresher course, reminding her periodically to use the bathroom and praising her when she does.
Also, it is possible that your daughter is drinking more than usual, as many of us do in the summer when it’s hot and we’re more active outdoors. She is still pretty new at this potty business and may not be very sensitive to her body’s own cues. Her elfish grin may be a look of embarrassment, rather than mischief. A calm, supportive approach probably will help her get back on track with no need to feel ashamed or turn this into a battle of wills.
Marti Erickson, Ph.D., is a professor at the University of Minnesota and senior fellow with the Children’s Youth & Family Consortium.