As a parents, you can do plenty of things to support your child when business trips take you away from home. Here are a few ideas you can adapt to suit your child's age and your family's situation.
- Check the calendar. Try to schedule business trips so they don't coincide with special events that are important to you and your children, like birthdays, school plays, and big games. As a parent, remember you only have so many opportunities to enjoy special moments with your kids.
If you must be away on business during a special event, come up with a Plan B, which might include:
- Arrange for another family member to be at the event with your child.
- Call the person planning the event to let them know about the situation so they can support the child.
- Use technology to listen in on that band performance or watch the soccer game.
- Ask another adult to take photos--digital photos can even be sent out immediately after the event.
- Call your child before the event to offer a last-minute dose of encouragement, and call again after the event to hear all the details.
Don't ask your child if it's all right for you to miss a special event--it's not. Your child will miss your presence, but children aren't in a position to give you permission one way or the other.
- Post your travel dates on the family calendar. Write down departure and return dates on a calendar that children can see. Although preschoolers and toddlers have a limited understanding of time, seeing your travel plans will help them learn important concepts like time and object constancy.
- Leave a personal item with the child while you're away. If the child is old enough, ask her what you can leave behind while you're away. Most parents leave a photo of themselves with their children, but you might also want to consider a piece of clothing. If your favorite sweatshirt is tucked under your child's pillow, it may be comforting in a very tactile way. Many parents even record their child's favorite song, prayer, or bedtime story complete with "bings" to indicate when it's time to turn the page.
- Always say goodbye. A lot of parents get this part wrong. They don't want to say good-bye because they don't want to upset their kids, especially little ones. Or they talk themselves into believing the child is too young to notice and understand their absence. But children, even infants, are aware of their parents' presence or absence. Newborns as young as 1-day-old respond to the presence or absence of their parents and can often be calmed and comforted by the sound of a parent's voice.
When you say goodbye, make it short and sweet. Tell your children good-bye and tell them you love them. Remind them of when you will return and when you will call them. Most children (and adults) like to know that their loved ones have arrived safely. If your child starts to cry, assure him that you will return soon, and have an adult ready to offer a hug and to whisk the child off into another activity. Long, dramatic goodbyes are unnecessarily painful for everyone. For many parents, business travel is just a part of life, and it's important to treat it as matter-of-factly as possible.
- Maintain contact with your children while you are traveling.
- Plan a few phone calls. If you're headed for a different time zone, consider setting a clock at home to show the time in your destination city. This will help children know when to call you, and it will help them think about you while you're away. Your children can look at this clock and think about what you may be doing at that moment.
- Think twice about phone calls at bedtime. For many children, bedtime is the time of day when their worries and fears return. Most children cope better if they talk with the traveling parent during daylight hours.
- Continue good parenting while you're gone.
- Fight the urge to buy your children all kinds of junk to compensate for your absence--most kids have too much stuff as it is. There's no need to spend a lot of money to assuage your guilt for being away. But if you want to bring home a souvenir, consider simple items your child can grow into a collection. School-age kids love to collect things like post cards, rocks, metal figures, baseball hats, and snow globes.
- Maintain the child's routine at home, complete with expectations for good behavior and consequences for bad behavior. Children feel safe when their day-to-day existence is predictable, and they may test the adult who is at home to see if that person can be trusted to take good care of them.
- Expect some regression and changes in behavior. It's normal for children to act differently when they're scared, worried, or upset. When faced with loss, young children don't always know how to tell you how they feel, so they may show you instead. Children may become clingy, whiney, uncooperative, or defiant, or they may suddenly be unable to do things they could do yesterday, like tying their shoes, getting to the bathroom in time, or sharing their toys with playmates. Older children may refuse to get out of bed or have trouble concentrating on school work. But don't panic. Try to acknowledge the situation, comfort them, and move on.
In some special situations, for instance, if your child has experienced a major loss, your business travel may trigger intense emotional and behavioral responses. If your child's behavior worries you, find some help so you can understand the problem and heal whatever lies behind her actions.
- Continue good parenting when you return home. Most children greet their parents with a big hug, but it's not unusual for young children to be angry with a parent who left home without them. Your child may test you for a day, be clingy, or pull away from you. If you can discuss what your child may be feeling inside, it may help. For some children, it just takes a day or two to feel safe and secure again.
- Say, "Thank you, thank you, thank you!" to the person who cared for your child while you were away. Although you may be tempted to sink into a chair and ask your family members to leave you alone so you can recover from your trip, it may work better for everyone if you take over child care responsibilities and let the other parent have some time alone.
- Debrief! Spend a little time talking with the person who cared for your child to ask how things went while you were gone. Did your efforts to stay connected to your child seem to work? Does that person have any suggestions for things you might do the next time you travel? The answers to these questions will help you learn what works for individual kids.
And remember to have this conversation where children can't overhear; some conversations are best kept between adults, and this is one of them.
No one is a perfect parent. We all make mistakes along the way. But debriefing allows us to make new mistakes rather than repeating the same ones over and over again. And that's the best we can hope for.
Books to Read on the Plane
Simple Secrets of Parenting: Easy as ABC. By John Q. Baucom, Illustrated by Cathy Abramson. Child & Family Press, 1997.
Teaching Parents of Young Children: A Curriculum in 12 Sessions. By Laura L. Wetzel. CWLA Press, 1996.
Other Reading Resources
Look for titles by the American Academy of Pediatrics, T. Berry Brazelton, and Penelope Leach, as well as Louise Bates Ames' series for each year of life (Your One Year Old, Your 2 Year Old, etc.).
Win the Whining War and Other Skirmishes: A Family Peace Plan. By Cynthia Whitham, Illustrated by Barry Wetmore. (Perspective, 1991).
Parenting with Love and Logic: Teaching Children Responsibility. By Foster W. Cline and Jim Fay. (Navpress, 1990).
How to Talk So Your Kids Will Listen and Listen So Kids Will Talk: 20th Anniversary Edition. By Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlish. (Avon, 1999).
Growing Up Again: Parenting Ourselves, Parenting Our Children. By Connie Dawson and Jean Illsley Clark. (Hazelden, 1998).
Siblings Without Rivalry: How to Help Your Children Live Together So You Can Live Too. By Adele Faber and Elaine Mazlisch. (Avon, 1988).
Solve Your Children's Sleep Problems. By Richard Ferber. (Fireside, 1986).
Healthy Sleep Habits, Happy Child. By Marc Weissbluth. (Ballantine, 2005)
Solve Your Child's Sleep Problems. By Richard Ferber. (Simon & Schuster, 2006)
The Baby Sleep Book. By William Sears, et al. (Little Brown & Co., 2005)
The Happiest Baby on the Block. By Harvey Karp. (Bantam, 2003)
The No-Cry Sleep Solution. By Elizabeth Pantley and William Sears. (McGraw-Hill, 2002)
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