When I worked in public relations, I spent a lot of time with advance teams. From local politicans to national names, more people than you might expect have someone doing advance work.
You know how effortless it looks when you see someone walk into a room, greeting people, wearing the right clothes, and working the room? It takes a lot of work. Advance people spend their time gathering information and relaying it back to the home office. The point is to make sure the politican or celebrity knows what he/she is getting in to and provide some talking points.
I realize now that we do the same thing with the girls, although on a slightly smaller scale. Whenever we go somewhere, we talk about who is going to be there and why. We talk about how the girls know these people -- Mommy's college friends, extended family, Daddy's work friends, etc. We talk about any time before now that the girls might have seen these people and remind them about that event/activity/etc. We talk about what will happen when we get there. We talk about what is expected of them.
Really, we are the girls' advance team.
We find it makes them more comfortable. Even when they don't really remember anyone from our last visit, they recognize the names and stories. They often check-in with us to make sure they are meeting expectations. They seem to enjoy feeling like they are in on some kind of family secret.
Oh, they still cling to us until they are ready to venture out on their own. The advance work seems to make that time a bit shorter.
After we are back in the mini-van, we debrief. We'll talk about what they did right and what needs some work. They'll tell us what they liked and didn't like. We talk about the things we might all do differently the next time.
The most fun is when they do advance work with us. The girls did it recently before I went to a school party. As we were driving over, the girls gave me the rundown on their classroom and classmates. It was so natural that they didn't even notice they were dong it. We just had another conversation on the way to a party. Of course, as we came out of the party, they wanted to debrief. It was great to realize that this is now an expected part of our routine.
When they say that all your previous experiences work their way into your parenting style, I didn't realize how true it was.