Does your child miss you when you’re out of town or working long hours? Here are surefire ways to comfort when your child misses a parent who is away.
My toddler has been asking, “Where’s Daddy?” throughout the day, and I always respond with the truth: “He’s at the office.”
I wondered where the sudden questions came from when I realized he’s finally noticed his dad’s irregular schedule. Unlike my set hours, my husband is working on a project with irregular hours these days. Sometimes he’s home early, but many nights he isn’t until after our toddler is asleep. Recently he only saw our son for five minutes in the morning before heading out, with no way to see him before bedtime.
And so the “Where’s Daddy?” questions started popping up. He would ask at random times with no relevance to what we were doing, either.
I had always assumed he asked questions to get answers, rather than to convey an emotion. He’s aware of emotions like happy, sad and mad, but we hadn’t addressed the feeling of missing someone. At least I get to see my husband in the evenings—my toddler is fast asleep by the time his dad usually comes home.
What to do when your child misses a parent
Perhaps your child is also missing a parent who is away from work, whether the schedule is new or has been set in stone for a while now. Or maybe one of you has been traveling, or even away for several months on duty. The reasons are many, but they all boil down to our kids missing one of their parents, unsure how to handle the absence.
So how can we help when our child misses a parent?
Address and label your child’s emotions.
Your child may have no idea what she’s feeling and doesn’t know how to define it the way you and I can. She likely knows she’s upset, but may not feel like her emotions are valid, or whether she should be feeling this way or not.
When you sense she misses mom or dad, label that emotion: “Are you sad that mama’s not here today?”
Associating words with emotions assures her this is normal, something everyone feels, even moms and dads. She also understands that, just as with any emotion, her sadness, anxiety and difficult emotions will go away—she’s not stuck feeling miserable forever.
Be patient when your child is being difficult.
Your child may be extra clingy, whiny and outright testing your patience. She likely makes your day more challenging, especially if you’re the only one she can “take it out on.”
But it’s the times when our kids are most difficult that they need us the most. Ironic, isn’t it? The times when they’re least pleasant is actually when we need to be most patient, even if it’s difficult to muster.
Describe what the other person is doing.
It’s easy to reply with the same ol’ questions with the same ol’ answers: “He’s at work” or “She works early in the mornings.”
But rather than saying the same phrase over and over, describe what the other parent is doing. For instance, explain what her dad does for work, and maybe even share what he might be doing at this moment.
Letting her know what her dad is doing gives her a clearer picture of what he’s doing, that he’s not simply “not here,” but doing something productive and purposeful.
I try to describe to my toddler what his dad is doing. I didn’t want “office” to seem like just another word that means, “not here.”
Offer items that belong to the missed parent.
One way to help your child cope with her emotions is to leave her with a special item, or placeholder, of her parent’s. “Hold on to Daddy’s watch and keep it safe while I’m gone,” you might say. “When I come home, you can give it back to me.”
This reassures your child that the parent will come back and that she’ll see him later. She’ll have a token of her dad’s that hers to hold on to in his absence. And she’ll feel special for having the responsibility of taking care of the special item.
Make crafts for the other parent.
A great way for kids to manage their emotions of missing a parent is to make a craft or art project for them. They’re spending time with something enjoyable, and they’re also doing something while thinking of their mom or dad.
You’re turning “lemons into lemonade” and using a time that would otherwise be difficult to get through toward a more positive activity. She can present the parent with the craft she made, making the reunion even more positive.
Offer a visual cue for the parent’s return.
Older children who can tell time can rely on a clock to know when mom or dad is coming home. Or if a parent is away for several days, mark a calendar and cross off the days leading up to her return.
With each passing day or hour marked on a sheet of paper, your child can count down when she’ll see mom or dad again.
Contact the other parent when possible.
Schedule regular times for your child to reach the other parent. During a workday, maybe she can give him a call or chat on video. He could take a photo and text it to you to show her.
If you’re going out town, schedule a phone call with your child every night. You can even read her a book over the phone, with you reciting the words and she flipping through the pages. Log onto your computer for a video chat—seeing your face can help ease any difficult emotions, for both parent and child.
In an ideal world, my husband, toddler and I would spend every single day together (well, most days!). For now, we rely on addressing emotions, placeholders, and patience to help our toddler when he misses his dad.
Get more tips:
- Dealing with Your Child’s Sadness
- How to Deal when Your Child Cries at Drop Off
- 9 Useful Techniques for Dealing with Anxiety in Young Children
- 10 Children’s Books about Separation Anxiety
- Parenting Mistakes: Judging Your Child’s Emotions
Tell me in the comments: What do you when your child misses a parent? What tips worked best?
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