How to Comfort a Child Who Misses a Parent

Does your little one miss you or your partner when you’re out of town or working long hours? Here’s how to comfort a child who misses a parent.

How to Comfort a Child Who Misses a Parent

My toddler asked, “Where’s Daddy?” throughout the day, and I kept responding with the truth: “He’s at the office.” 

It wasn’t until he asked for the zillionth time that I realized that missing a parent who’s away at work can be tough for any child. Maybe you work long hours, only able to see your child mere minutes in the mornings and evenings. Perhaps your partner has been traveling or away for several months.

The reasons are many, but they all boil down to your child missing a parent, unsure how to handle the absence. How can you help him cope with his big feelings? Take a look at these tips below:

Offer items that belong to the missed parent

Coping with these difficult feelings is especially hard when your child is overly attached to one parent.

One way to help her manage her emotions is to leave her with a special item, or “placeholder,” of the parent who’s gone. “Hold on to my bracelet and keep it safe while mommy is gone,” you might say. “When I come home, you can give it back to me.”

This reassures her that you’ll come back and that she’ll see you later—after all, you wouldn’t just leave your special item without coming back, right? She’ll have a token of yours to hold onto in your absence, which can offer comfort when she feels overwhelmed with sadness. And she’ll feel special for having the responsibility of taking care of such a special item.

When you’re finally reunited, remember to collect your special item to further cement the idea of coming together after being apart.

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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,” “I work early in the mornings,” or “You know he’s gone for a few weeks.”

Rather than saying the same phrase over and over, explain to your child why you work. If it’s your partner, describe what he might be doing at this moment or on this particular day.

For one thing, giving details paints a clearer picture of where, for example, his dad is, rather than “at work.” He also learns that his dad is doing something productive and purposeful, not just away from the family. After all, you don’t want “work” to simply mean”not here.” And this respects your child’s feelings and curiosity—he doesn’t feel like his questions are petty or always brushed aside.

Be patient when your child is being difficult

Being patient with a clingy toddler is no easy task. She might be extra attached to you, making it difficult for anyone else who’s with her the whole day. Perhaps she misses her dad, and you’re the only one she can “take it out on.”

But the times when she’s the most difficult is when she needs you the most. Ironic, isn’t it? When she’s least pleasant is actually when you need to be the 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, if not more. This doesn’t mean giving in to her unreasonable demands, but extending compassion and empathy for how she feels.

And be kind to yourself. The extra stress of solo parenting, however temporary, can be a hard adjustment for both of you.

Address and label your child’s emotions

Your child may have no idea what he’s feeling and doesn’t know how to define it the way you and I can. He may not feel like his emotions are valid, or whether he should be feeling this way or not.

When you sense that he misses a parent, label that emotion: “You seem sad that daddy’s not here today.”

Associating words with emotions assures him that this is normal—something everyone feels, even adults. He also understands that his sadness and anxiety will go away—he’s not stuck feeling miserable forever.

And let him sit with his feelings, no matter how difficult. The reasons why you shouldn’t tell kids to stop crying are many: Doing so restricts their emotions, doesn’t provide teachable moments, and is far from effective. Instead, know that his sadness will come and go, as all feelings do.

Offer a visual cue for the parent’s return

Anxiety can build when we don’t have the answers yet. In your child’s case, she may not like knowing when (and in her mind, if) her missing parent will come back. Help her cope by giving her a visual cue of when to expect to see him again.

For instance, older children who can tell time can rely on a clock to know when Dad is coming home. If he’s away for several days, mark a calendar and cross off the days leading up to his return.

With each passing hour on the clock or day marked on a calendar, she can count down when she’ll see him again.

Contact the other parent when possible

Missing a parent won’t feel so hard when your child can see or hear from him while he’s away.

Schedule regular times for the two of them to chat. For instance, schedule a phone call every night. Dad 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 already have it memorized.)

Log onto your computer for a video chat—seeing Dad’s face can ease difficult emotions, for both parent and child. Dad can also take a photo of what he’s doing or what he can see 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.

Make crafts for the other parent

A great way for your child to manage the emotions of missing a parent is to make a craft or art project for him. She’s able to do something fun while keeping him in her thoughts.

You’re turning “lemons into lemonade” and using a time that would otherwise be difficult to get through toward a more positive activity. Upon his return, she can present him with the craft she made, making the reunion even more positive.

These crafts can be simple, like drawing a picture of the family together or painting on a thick piece of paper that can be turned into a greeting card.


It’s never easy on anyone when your child misses a parent, especially when you need to manage the day-to-day household on top of helping her cope with her emotions. Thankfully, you now have a few tools to help everyone cope with the absence—even if she asks, “Where’s Daddy?” a zillion times a day.

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