Joanne Stern, Ph.D.

Joanne Stern Ph.D.

Parenting Is a Contact Sport

How to Stay Connected to Your Child When You're Away from Home

So you're going away and leaving your child at home.

Posted May 17, 2011

So you're going away and leaving your child at home. Are you worried that you'll lose your connection with your child; that somehow your absence will damage his growth and development; that your strong, positive relationship will diminish while you're gone?

Well, worry if you must. But set the timer for five minutes and stop when the buzzer goes off. Worry gets you nowhere, and it even cuts off your creative juices, preventing you from thinking of ways to maximize your time away and coming up with strategies that will benefit your child as well as yourself.

Of course, you won't be wandering off into the wild blue yonder. You already have all your technology in place: cell phone, emails, Skype and text messages that will keep you in contact.

But here are five additional suggestions that will keep you connected while you're gone and give you confidence that you and your child are cemented in spirit even though you're separated in body.

1. Set a time during the day when you both agree to think a special thought for the other. For example, "At 2:00 I'll be thinking about you and sending you good wishes." Or you'll be saying a little prayer, holding your child up in the light, sending good vibes-whatever is your way of letting her know she will be in your heart and your thoughts. Then set an alarm on your phone so you don't forget. She will come to count on you being there for her even though you're not together and it will keep you connected.

2. When you call, give your child a hug over the phone and send it to him through space. You're so familiar with each other's bodies and the style of each other's hugs that if you close your eyes, envision your child in your embrace and wait a few moments to allow the vision to settle in, you can actually feel the hug.

When my daughters were young-and even now that they're grown-we would often send each other hugs, and it's amazing how real, how warm and how visceral they feel. I typically say, "I'm sending you a hug right now," and we both know this is the signal to close our eyes to block out any distraction that would get in the way of our mutual embrace. "Okay, wait a minute. Are you ready?" Then we pause to envision ourselves hugging each other. "Alright, here it comes." Then we wait several seconds for the hug to reach the other person, wash over and sink in. Do you believe it? Just try it and you'll experience how powerful and authentic and connecting it is.

3. Write cards before you leave home and stash them in places where your child will find them. This is a perfect venue for writing affirmations for her. Tell her how much you believe in her, what you particularly respect and admire about her, how she delights your heart and fills you with joy. Not soupy, goopy or inauthentic, but short and genuine. Just a quick note that brightens her day and lets her know how much you love her.

Or you can pull out her schedule before you go away and write notes that pertain to the specific activities or events of each day-a word of encouragement for the soccer game, a good luck with her science project, a note of support for the spelling quiz and a smile of fun at the birthday party. Seal each envelope and put the appropriate date on the front so she can open each card on the relevant day.

4. Leave your child with a journal of your schedule while you're gone. Write, not only the specific events of each day, but some personal thoughts about each one. Add some expectations you have about the activities you'll be doing. Include some of the people you'll be with and some of your anticipated feelings about each day. You can make the journal as detailed as you have time for. The more specifics, the more included your child will feel. You can even write about the place you're be staying, describing the surroundings, your room, the food and anything else you've been able to gather in advance. Any brochures or photos will make it more real and help your child to feel more connected to you while you're away.

5. Prepare supplies, before you leave, for a craft project your child can do while you're away and give to you as a gift when you return. Not as pressure in an already busy school schedule to make him feel responsible or guilty if he doesn't do it. Make it entirely optional and only a suggestion if he is missing you and would feel closer to you when you're away by making something special for you. If you're not the crafty type, get an idea from your child's teacher. Provide the babysitter with colored paper, markers, glue, glitter-and the idea for the project. It can be oh-so-simple or a bit more complicated, depending on your child's age and the time he will have before you return. But creating something special for Mommy or Daddy can eliminate his lonesome feelings and put a smile on his face. And if you choose this option to help your child stay connected to you while your away, be sure to bring something home from your trip so you can reciprocate with a gift for him too.

Being away from your child can be a positive time for both of you. For you, it's a reprieve from the daily grind, the responsibility and the stress of caring you're your child. It's a time for mutual letting go-healthy for you and for your child because he learns some self-reliance and independence which, in turn, increase his self-esteem. So whether you're away on business or pleasure, relax. Make the most of your time away knowing that when you return, all will be well.

For more parenting advice, please take a look at my book, 'Parenting Is a Contact Sport: 8 Ways to Stay Connected to Your Kids for Life."

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