When Parents Travel: Tips for Helping Kids Cope

daddytravel

My husband travels a lot.  At this point, he’s been on the road for months, and he won’t get much time at home anytime soon.  Like many moms and dads out there, he simply has a job that requires extensive travel. 

While I was able to surround my kids with family during the summer, we are currently in back-to-school mode.  And the stress is written all over their faces.  With the return to our normal schedule comes the constant wondering when daddy might be home, missing him in the dark of night, and crying about the birthdays and holidays that will be missed. 

It’s hard.  Although I have this travel thing down on my end, the kids are little and they struggle to understand the element of time that hangs over us.  They just want him to come home.

We’ve learned a few things along the way, including how to ease their worried minds just a little bit.

Tips for helping kids cope with traveling parents:

Long separations from parents can be very stressful for young children, no matter how much you prepare them for it.  Talk about it often.  Empathize with your child.

Let them help pack:

There was a time when I waited until the last possible moment to tell the kids about an upcoming trip.  They were toddlers and didn’t understand the meaning of time at all, and the thought of him leaving caused instant meltdowns.

These days I prepare them in advance.  One thing that helps is letting the kids help him pack his bags.  Sure, they add some of their own things (like a favorite toy “so that he won’t be lonely”) or article of their own clothing as a joke.  But they love to be helpful and packing the bag gives them a role in the process.  It feels a little more manageable when they have something to do to help daddy out the door.

Create a countdown calendar:

If a parent tends to take frequent shorter trips, countdown calendars can be a great tool.  Construction paper links that are torn off at the end of each day helps the kids see that the end is in sight.

If a parent travels extensively, as my husband does, it’s a little more difficult to do a countdown.  He pops in and out for a few days here and there, so we circle his “home days” on the wall calendar. 

Face Time/phone call schedule:

Kids love routine because it helps them to know what’s coming.  Routine means that they don’t have to wonder about when they will talk to a traveling parent.

Try to schedule phone or video check-ins at the same time every day, if possible.  When there are changes to the routine, warn the kids in advance so that they know what to expect.

We tend to aim for Face Time at dinner, but when he’s on the other side of the world it shifts to breakfast. 

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Use a wall map:

We keep a “daddy tracking” wall map in the house and the kids place a sticker on each city he visits along the way. 

A map is great because it allows your child to visualize where the parent is.  You can also take the opportunity to learn about the places the parent travels and even try to cook some food from each place! 

Be aware of signs of stress:

MORE: 3 Ways Stress Impacts Learning  }

Long separations from parents can be very stressful for young children, no matter how much you prepare them for it.  Talk about it often.  Empathize with your child.  Share your own feelings so that your child feels less alone. 

And watch for signs of stress:

  • Separation anxiety
  • School refusal
  • Excessive sadness and/or frustration
  • Increased sibling arguments
  • Frequent headaches, stomachaches, or other physical complaints
  • Frequent illness  

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When Parents Travel: Tips for Helping Kids Cope

Katie Hurley, LCSW is a Child and Adolescent Psychotherapist and writer in Los Angeles, CA. She is the author of "No More Mean Girls: The Secret to Raising Strong, Confident, and Compassionate Girls" and "The Happy Kid Handbook: How to Raise Joyful Children in a Stressful World". She earned her BA in Psychology and Women's Studies from Boston College and her MSW from the University of Pennsylvania. She divides her time between her family, her private practice and her writing. Passionate about he ... More

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2 comments

  1. Dario says:

    I will keep these tips in mind for the future.

  2. Phammom says:

    These are the tips I would give.

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