Mighty Life List
Oct 20 2010

How to Keep Kids Happy While You’re Away

When we decided to take Hank to Ireland last minute, reader Lianne Raymond sent me a touching note offering some tips for keeping kids content while you’re away — whether you’re traveling or just dropping them off at daycare. Her ideas mirror a lot of my own philosophies about parenting, so I thought I’d share. Thanks, Lianne.

1) Acknowledge the child’s feelings.

Empathize with them. “I know, it’s hard to be apart, isn’t it?” And normalize their feelings. “Everybody feels a little bit scared when they go to a new place.” Let their attachment to you be a place they can rest in love in the midst of their anxiety.

Don’t minimize the child’s feelings or ask them to change how they feel. “Can you be a brave big boy for mummy?” Don’t try to change their feelings and behavior.

2) If the child is going to school or childcare, let them see you interact with the teacher or the caregiver in a positive way.

Children are naturally wired to be wary of strangers — for good reason. They will, however, take cues from those they love as to who is worthy of their trust. If they see you interacting with the teacher with smiles, nods, laughter and even a hug, if possible, they will be able to feel safer with that person. Not that they will bond immediately, the relationship will still need to be developed, but this provides a good footing.

3) Give the child an object through which they can feel connected to you while you are apart.

A scarf that smells like your favourite perfume. A locket with a picture of you and them inside. Matching bracelets that you both wear — these can be a simple as a coloured string — hey it works for Kabbalah peeps! Imbue the object with some magic powers, “When you open the locket invisible magic dust will come out and you will be able to see Mummy in your head and mummy will be able to see you in her head, and it will be just like we are together.” “There is an invisible string connecting our two bracelets and when you tug on your bracelet it will travel along the invisible string until it gets to me.”

4) Focus on the return

Don’t talk details about the separation, but give details about the reunion. “Oh, it’s going to be so wonderful when I come to pick you up. I’m going to give you the biggest hug and smother you in kisses. I’m going to be so happy to see you!”

5) Don’t avoid the goodbye

It’s very common for parents to try to sneak out of the house or away from the school and avoid dealing with the feelings of separation altogether. While understandable, it is much better to focus on developing emotionally healthy separation rituals then to leave the child feeling abandoned.

All excellent advice. Thanks again, Lianne. And what about you? Do you have any special rituals that keep you connected when you’re away from the kids in your life?