Q: My children are 5 and 20 months, and I'm concerned about leaving them with the grandparents for a week while we go on vacation. How traumatic is that going to be?
-- Criena Sekhon, Victoria,
A: The experience should be wonderful for a healthy, happy 5-year-old, parents and experts say. Predicting a 20-month-old's reaction is a bit more tricky.
The questions to ask yourself are these:
Does your toddler lean toward the mature or immature side of the developmental spectrum? How well does the younger child know these grandparents? Do the children get along well with each other? How energetic are the grandparents?
"If the 20-month-old is already doing some talking, doesn't have too many phobias and has some experience with separation like going to day care or a sitter, it should go OK," says Dr. Laura W. Nathanson, a San Diego pediatrician and author of "The Portable Pediatrician for Parents" (HarperPerennial, $20).
If the two children are themselves close, the older one will often play the big brother or sister role and shepherd the younger one through any rough spots, she says.
It's also a real plus if the grandparents already have a comfortable relationship with the children.
"I have grandchildren about the same age, and I would say it depends entirely on the child's relationship with the grandparents," says Frances Miller of Baltimore. "We have our grandson twice a week, so he did very well the last time my daughter was gone for five days."
Many parents told Child Life that such vacations gave their children a chance to bond with their grandparents. "I was concerned about leaving, too," says Judy Silverman of North Miami Beach, Fla. "It turned out that my son and my mom just got closer, and it was more traumatic for me than it was for him. He ended up having a vacation, too."
Though the experience can be memorable, make sure it doesn't go down in the family lore for the wrong reasons. Be honest with the grandparents about what they're getting themselves into. Be honest with yourself about whether they're physically up to the job.
Make sure the grandparents understand the child's routines and your discipline philosophy, says a Maryland reader, Anne Frampton of Pasadena. "I left a detailed list of my daughter's activities and what she likes to eat," Ms. Frampton says.
With the proper preparation, a typical 5-year-old can be comfortable with separations of up to two weeks. Tell the 5-year-old about the trip a week ahead of time, Dr. Nathanson advises. Expect the child to spend two days saying, "Don't go," three days asking how things will work and the last two days anticipating the trip.
Be sure to emphasize the child's vacation rather than your own, says Margaret Loos of Federal Way, Wash. "Make a big deal of how exciting it is to get to spend a week with Grandma," she says.
To stay close, Chris Folmer of Homestead, Fla., wrote postcards to her children in advance and had friends sneak them into the mail every day she was gone. Roma Levy of Scotts Valley, Calif., left a videotape of her and her husband reading their son's favorite stories.
Dr. Nathanson agrees with parents who say that so long as the younger child passes the maturity test, the parents should enjoy their vacation without guilt.
"Children need to be away from their parents from time to time and it will not hurt them," says another Marylander, Betty Kelley, also from Pasadena. "Parents need time alone together also."
While a reporter at the Miami Herald, Beverly Mills developed this column after the birth of her son, now 5. Ms. Mills and her husband currently live in Raleigh, N.C., and also have a 3-year-old daughter.