Going out of town on business is oftentimes a necessary part of the job for working parents. If your child struggles with your (or your partner’s) absences, try a few of these ideas to soothe the stressful sting of separation.
Clue your child in. If you have an upcoming business trip, prepare your child a few days in advance. Talk about why it’s important that you go. Show him your destination on the map, visit the city’s convention and visitor bureau’s website together, discuss the weather there and ask him what he thinks you should pack for the trip.
Start a project together. Kick-off a puzzle, start an art or sewing project or begin constructing a model airplane or car with your child to continue when you return home. This tactic helps your child look ahead to your return.
Got a budding writer? Begin writing a story before you leave and have your child add a paragraph and email it to you. Add to her paragraph, send it back and so on.
Designate a special mailbox. Whether it’s a picture, a note or an A on a spelling test, ask your kids to put anything they want you to see when you return in a mailbox or basket. Make the mailbox stand out by having your children decorate it.
Plan times to call. Depending on the nature of your travels, find times to connect with your kids on a routine basis. Know your family’s morning and evening schedule so you can call and say good morning and good night during periods of relative calm. Frequent phone calls also help your child grow accustomed to talking on the phone, an important communication skill.
Help track time. Most small children have little concept of time. Make a paper chain with a link representing each day you’re away. Hang the chain by your kitchen table, and your children can cut a link each morning at breakfast.
Write a note. Leave a meaningful note in a basket or jar addressed to each of your children. They can open a note each day you’re away and when the notes are gone, they’ll know you’re on your way home.
Record your voice. Kids love audio books, especially if they’re listening to someone they love. Purchase a recordable storybook and record yourself reading the book. Your kids will enjoy listening to you over and over again.
Send text messages and email. One of my favorite commercials is one of a dad who finds his daughter’s stuffed animal, a monkey, in his suitcase while on a business trip. He takes pictures of the monkey at different places throughout the trip to text home to his thrilled little girl. In addition to personalized text messages to your child, send picture texts of landmarks that might interest your child. If your child has a passion for airplanes or cars, take a picture of one of the planes on the tarmac or of the rental car you’re driving.
Connect on the webcam. Arrange a time to talk to your children over your laptop webcam. (Skype.com is a free service.) Use the webcam to read or tell a bedtime story to your child or listen while your child reads a book to you.
Mail a letter. Remember the thrill of receiving personal mail? If you’re going to be away for an extended time, mail a card, letter or postcard to your child. Living in the digital age, a hand-written note is extra special and something tangible for your child to hang onto.
Back home? Give your child the gift of your undivided attention for at least ten minutes when you walk in the door rather than immediately checking those distracting email and phone messages. While you may feel anxious to address pressing business issues left in limbo while flying home, your children want your immediate attention, too. Set a timer if it helps you focus on remaining present with your kids for the first few minutes of your re-entry.
Schedule quality time together. Plan an activity with your children for when you return, like going to a baseball game or movie, playing catch or mini-golf, coloring a picture, taking a bike ride or going out to breakfast together. Be flexible and remember quality times like these can turn into family traditions and memories you and your children will cherish for years to come.
Married to a road warrior, freelance writer Christa Melnyk Hines writes frequently about keeping the family unit strong and happy.