Do your kids miss you or your partner when either of you are out of town or working long hours? Here’s how to comfort a child who misses a parent.
My toddler had been asking, “Where’s Daddy?” throughout the day, and I always responded with the truth: “He’s at the office.”
I wondered where the sudden questions came from when I realized my son may have been noticing his dad’s irregular schedule. Unlike my set hours, my husband was working on a project with irregular hours. Sometimes he was home early, but many nights he wasn’t until after our son was asleep. At one point, he only saw our son for five minutes in the morning before heading out, with no way to see him before bedtime.
So the “Where’s Daddy?” questions started popping up. He’d 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 comes home.
How to comfort a child who misses a parent
Perhaps your child is also missing a parent who’s away from work, whether the schedule is new or has been set in stone for a while now. Maybe your partner has been traveling or away for several months.
The reasons are many, but they all boil down to our kids missing one of their parents, unsure how to handle the absence. How can you help when your child misses a parent?
1. 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 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 your child misses a parent, label that emotion: “You seem sad that daddy’s not here today.”
Associating words with emotions assures her this is normal, something everyone feels, even moms and dads. She also understands that her sadness, anxiety and difficult emotions will go away—she’s not stuck feeling miserable forever.
2. 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,” your partner might say. “When I come home, you can give it back to me.”
This reassures your child that he’ll come back and that she’ll see him later. She’ll have a token of his to hold on to in his absence. And she’ll feel special for having the responsibility of taking care of such a special item.
3. 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 him. Your child is doing something fun while thinking of her 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.
4. Be patient when your child is being difficult
Your child may be extra clingy, whiny and outright testing your patience. She makes your day more challenging, especially if you’re the only one she can “take it out on.”
But the times when our kids are most difficult is when 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 doing so is difficult to muster.
5. Describe what the other parent is doing
It’s easy to reply to the same ol’ questions with the same ol’ answers: “He’s at work” or “She works early in the mornings” or “You know he’s gone for a few weeks.”
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 share what he might be doing at this moment.
Letting her know what her dad is doing gives her a clearer picture of where he is, rather than “not here.” He’s doing something productive and purposeful.
I describe to my toddler a typical day at my husband’s job. I didn’t want “work” to seem like just another word that means, “not here.”
6. 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 his 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.
7. Contact the other parent when possible
Schedule regular times for your child to reach the other parent. During a workday, she can give him a call or chat on video during a break. He can take a photo and text it to you to show her.
If your partner is going out town, schedule a phone call with him every night. He can read her a book over the phone, reciting the words as she flips through the pages (print the words if he don’t have it memorized).
Log onto your computer for a video chat—seeing his face can ease difficult emotions, for both parent and child.
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It’s never easy on anyone when a child misses a parent. Your child feels sad at your partner’s absence and doesn’t understand why he’s gone. Your partner feels guilty for being away from both of you too long, with you on solo duty.
And you not only miss your partner, but need to manage the day-to-day household on top of helping your child cope with her emotions.
You can do this by describing those emotions so she understands they’re normal and come and go. Be patient when she’s being difficult, as this is when she needs you to be patient the most.
Describe what your partner does while he’s away so she knows he’s doing important work and not simply gone. Before leaving, have him give your child a special token of his that she can return when he comes back.
In the meantime, help her make crafts for him while also showing a visual cue of when to expect his return. And finally, contact your partner during his absence to reassure your child he’s still here and to share any stories she may want to tell.
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.
p.s. I also recommend reading When I Miss You by Cornelia Maude Spelman with your child to encourage her to talk about her feelings:
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
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