Leslie quickly stuffed her backpack with clothes and then grabbed her doll as she headed out the door. She was having an overnight at her friend, Lisa’s house. They had been friends for about three years now, but had never had an overnight. She was excited. Having shared many meals and spent many evenings together, both girls were confident. After hours of games, doll playing and t.v. watching. They both began to tire. Lisa’s mom announced that it was time for bed and began turning off the downstairs lights. For the first time, Leslie began to feel uneasy. She didn’t like the dark. At her house they always left a light on downstairs. She watched as Lisa’s mom walked into her own bedroom and closed the door. She was confused. Who was going to tuck them in? She wasn’t used to going to bed on her own. Afraid of sounding like a baby, she didn’t say anything and changed into her pajamas as quickly as she could. Clutching her doll tightly to her chest, she closed her eyes and tried really hard to go to sleep.
As children mature, they begin to move away from their family of origin and interact more and more with their peer group. This maturation takes place over many many years. Our children move from parallel play groups, to play dates with friends, to overnights, to week long summer camps, to high school exchange programs. All of these experiences expose our children to varied lifestyles and ways of being in the world. Some families are vegetarian, some are religious, some are politically focused, others are not. Some families value individual independence, others participate in most activities together. These first forays into unfamiliar territory can leave children feeling unsettled or off-balance. After all, they understand the rules of their own home, adjusting to the rules of another home can be confusing and even scary. It is important to provide transition time for your children when they return home. In the early years, they need time to reconnect with you physically through cuddle time and just being together. In later years, your child needs time to talk about their experience, share funny stories and ask questions about the differences between your family and the family they just visited. This time together provides you with important information about what is happening in your child’s life with their friends. It also gives you a chance to talk about differing beliefs, food choices, activities and ways of connecting in families. Transition time at home helps ground, nurture and return your child to their sense of safety. If during this transition, you talk about lifestyle differences easily, without fear or judgment, you help cultivate a sense of well-being and understanding in your child as well. When they move out into the world at large, they will do so with a strong sense of self and respect for others.