It's common for work trips to separate families, and whether your trip is short or extended, try these tips to help your child cope with the separation:
Before you go...
1.) Talk about the separation in advance. It’s understandable that you might not want to bring up stressful topics with your child, but it’s important to prepare them for the separation. Go with an age appropriate level of detail; for example, tell your child you are leaving, where you are going, the departure date (in terms of tomorrow, next week, next month, etc.), when you will be back (they may not have the long-term concept of time, but familiarizing them with units of time will help the parent who is staying at home), and how much you’ll miss the child.
2.) Have fun with geography. For preschoolers and up, make a game out of the above discussions of separation. You can look at maps together, or even better, play together with map puzzles, where you can make a game out of connecting your two locations while you talk about where you are going.
3.) Update your technology. Make sure your computer equipment is up to date and ready to go. If you're a one-computer family and you'll be gone a long time, consider getting a second computer for easy communication. Get any equipment or software fixed or upgraded before you leave town and make sure you have high-speed Internet.
4.) Be explicit with your partner. Think about what information you will want updates on while you are gone. Parents process the information about what their kids are doing differently, so if you're calling for an update, and your partner has no idea what specifics are important for you, certain things may not be on his/her radar. Make a list of any particulars (e.g., developmental milestones) so your partner will know what kind of updates you’re interested in.
5.) Prepare for transitions and routines. If the partner who is leaving is solely responsible for any regular activity (e.g., bath time), transfer or start sharing the responsibility for that task to the partner who is staying sooner rather than later, to help smooth the transition.
For the parent who is home...
1.) Allow your child to embrace the feelings. Distraction is a key parenting technique when a child is upset, but it’s also healthy and normal for children to be able to express sadness and work through it before moving on, particularly with something major like a parent being gone. For example, you can acknowledge the feeling by saying, “I know you miss Mom. I miss her too,” and then suggest looking at favorite photos, or making a card or piece of art for her. Activities like this will allow your child to feel what they are feeling while finding a positive and constructive outlet for their sad feelings.