The hardest part of watching your child set off to travel for a long period is the balance between supporting them in their adventure while helping them with knowledge and information to keep them safe - all without burdening them with your own, entirely natural anxiety as a parent.

It is safe to say that parents miss their children enormously and worry a great deal. Equally, children miss parents and home and you may have to deal with sudden panics and bad cases of homesickness. We need to avoid the temptation to make coming home easy, but with your long distance support a young person can usually manage and go on to thrive. Coming home early can feel like defeat and lead to resentment.

Parents find that distance and not knowing exactly where their child is can be one of the hardest burdens to bear, but this can be alleviated a little by regular e-mails and phone calls.

Support from other parents whose children have travelled is invaluable. Talk to people early on in the process so that you can use the information they and their children discovered; it is sensible to know places where young travellers did not feel safe and the contingency plans they made to cover emergencies and accidents.

It is important we remember that when the going is hard, our children can learn an enormous amount from the experience, especially about managing risks and building independence and resilience. Gap year travelling can feel like a rite of passage and even young people who are not natural travellers can feel like they "ought" to do it. Try to find out where the idea has come from and what they imagine the experience will be like; it can be helpful to point out that it is not something they have to do.

What do they want to get out of the experience? What will it feel like to come home and pick up life again afterwards? Parents have to accept that for some young people a gap year becomes more than a holiday. They can be so changed by the experience that they cannot settle back into their planned university place or job.

Good research is the key. If your child is going to use a work placement agency or eco-tourism bureau, suggest that they ask around, and do so yourself, to find ones that have a good track record of supporting young people while giving them experiences that they have enjoyed and been challenged by.

Finance is important. Early in the discussions have a conversation about how much money, if any, you are going to contribute. Parents also need to manage delicate conversations about risks and contingencies. Many of the guidebooks to countries have very good sections on managing yourself in that country.

What parents must not do, however tempting, is take over the planning and thinking; again, we have to offer help but not undermine. It is the young person's trip not our own, however much we'd like it to be. Ask what you can helpfully do; perhaps the more boring research on what vaccinations they need - anti-malaria medication, for example - and their timings, flights and costs.

On a family note, if there have been relationship problems between you and your child or between others in the family, this is a time to straighten things out so that your child can go off confident that they are loved and positive about the family they are leaving behind.

Equally, it is important to remember that your child will constantly have you in mind while they are away. If it can possibly be avoided, this is not the time to paint their room, install a lodger, move house or, worse still, divorce or separate. Major changes such as these are the hardest thing for a young person to endure when they are so far away.

Even with a great deal of planning and love, letting your child travel independently is not going to be easy - just easier.

Honor Rhodes is the director of development at the Family and Parenting Institute

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