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 had been working on a project with irregular hours. Sometimes he’d be home early, but many nights he wouldn’t until after our son was asleep. At one point, he only saw him for five minutes in the morning before heading out, with no way to see him come 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 was aware of emotions like happy, sad and mad, but we hadn’t addressed the feeling of missing someone. At least I got to see my husband in the evenings—he was fast asleep by the time his dad would come home.
How to comfort a child who misses a parent
Perhaps your child is also missing a parent who’s away at 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 he misses one of his parents?
Take a look at these tips (or watch the video below):
1. Offer items that belong to the missed parent
One way to help your child cope with his emotions is to leave him 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 him that your partner will come back and that he’ll see him later. He’ll have a token of his to hold onto in his absence. And he’ll feel special for having the responsibility of taking care of such a special item.
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2. Make crafts for the other parent
A great way for kids to manage the emotions of missing a parent is to make a craft or art project for him or her. 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.
3. 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.”
Rather than saying the same phrase over and over, describe what the other parent is actually doing. For instance, explain what his dad does for work and share what he might be doing at this moment.
Letting him know gives him a clearer picture of where he is, rather than “not here.” He’s doing something productive and purposeful, not just being away from the family. You don’t want “work” to simply mean, “not here.”
4. Offer a visual cue for the parent’s return
Anxiety can build when we don’t know the answers yet. Help your child cope by giving him a visual cue of when to expect to see your partner.
For instance, older children who can tell time can rely on a clock to know when mom or dad is coming home. If a parent is away for several days, mark a calendar and cross off the days leading up to his or her return.
With each passing day or hour marked on a sheet of paper, your child can count down when he’ll see mom or dad again.
5. Contact the other parent when possible
Missing a parent won’t feel so hard when your child can see or hear from your partner while he or she is away.
Schedule regular times for the two of them to chat. For instance, schedule a phone call every night. He can read him a book over the phone, reciting the words as you flip through the pages at home. (Tip: email him the words to the book if he doesn’t have it already memorized.)
Log onto your computer for a video chat—seeing his face can ease difficult emotions, for both parent and child. And he can take a photo of what he’s doing or what he sees and text it to the both of you. My husband would show live videos as he walked around a different city so my son could see where he was.
6. 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.
Remind yourself that she’s likely having a difficult time with her emotions and is struggling as much as you are. And be kind to yourself. The extra stress of solo parenting, however temporary, can be a hard adjustment for both of you.
7. 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 may not feel like her emotions are valid, or whether she should be feeling this way or not.
When you sense that she 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 and anxiety will go away—she’s not stuck feeling miserable forever.
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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 his emotions.
You can do this by describing those emotions so he understands they’re normal and come and go. Be patient when he’s being difficult, as this is when he needs you to be patient the most.
Describe what your partner does while he’s away so he knows he’s doing important work and not simply gone. Before leaving, have him give your child a special token of his that he can return when he returns.
In the meantime, help him make crafts 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 he may want to tell.
In an ideal world, my husband, toddler and I would have spent every day together (well, most days!). When we couldn’t, we relied on addressing emotions, placeholders, and patience that helped him when he missed his dad.
p.s. I also recommend reading When I Miss You by Cornelia Maude Spelman with your child to encourage him to talk about his 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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