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Know before they go

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Before you send the kids off to visit a friend or relative on their own, consider these suggestions:

Talk with the hosts about planned activities. Be sure they are appropriate for your children's ages and development levels. Also discuss topics such as daily routines, helping with chores, family rules, conflict resolution and financial responsibilities. Be aware of any health restrictions, especially with older relatives. For example, some older people take medications that require them to stay out of the sun - this could affect a kid's plans to spend all day at the pool or beach.

Talk with children about expectations, activities and fears they may have about missing home life.

If there are no children in the host's home, ask about opportunities for meeting other kids. Making new friends can be an important part of a child's vacation.

It's important for kids to have an idea of where they are going and whom they are visiting. Before traveling, have children write letters, send e-mail or talk on the telephone with the hosts.

Have kids take a few favorite books, hand-held games, CDs and portable toys so they can entertain themselves at times.

Give the kids prepaid phone cards so they can call friends or family if they feel homesick.

If you have doubts about the potential success of a child's visit, start slow and send the child for a long weekend the first time. If everyone is happy with the results, try a weeklong visit next summer.

SOURCE: Mark Gunther, a family counselor in Arlington, and Leslie Linsley, author of Totally Cool Grandparenting: A Practical Handbook of Time-Tested Tips, Activities and Memorable Moments (St. Martin's Press, $11.95).
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