Written by Doctor G

10 Tips When a Parent Travels for Work

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count down calendarMy son is 6 1/2 and an only child. I am going on a one month work trip to South Africa, and will be leaving him in the care of my husband, with assistance from my mom, my mother-in-law and our daycare provider. He is very sensitive and I am concerned that the distance and timing will be detrimental to him, while I am away. Can you suggest some ideas to help us all build up resiliency (both for himself on a day-to-day basis and to help him cope while I am away.) Thank you!

Lisa, in NY

Lisa, of course your trip will be hard on him. And it will be hard on you in some ways. But he will learn from the experience, and it will build his resilience, as you suggested.

Here are some ways you can prepare your family for the separation and focus on the growth that can happen.

Strategies to help kids learn about work travel.

  1. Tell him about your trip, if you haven’t already. With your husband, let him know that you will take this trip and how long you’ll be gone.
  2. Listen to his reactions. Just listen.
  3. Don’t tell your son how to feel. He will have a lot of emotional reactions to your trip, before you go and while you’re there and when you’re back. This doesn’t make him sensitive, just normal. Make sure to be respectful of his feelings by not trying to force him to change his emotions.
  4. Validate his reaction. “I hear that you are sad that we won’t be together. I feel that way too.” Or “I see that you are angry, I understand that.”
  5. Answer his questions. When he wants to know why you have to go, be very brief in your explanation. He is not asking why your work is making you go, he is really asking “Is your work more important than I am?” Answer that – “Our family is the most important thing to me, and this will be hard but you and Dad and I will all be OK.”

Build Resilience:

Resilience requires emotion. Your son’s reactions to your trip are important, and are part of his learning experience. Resilience is what actions he (and you) take to help with the emotional response. For ways you can help your son have confidence in his ability to overcome obstacles every day, please consider this book of 50 resilience-building activities. As you plan for your trip, all of the activities listed below are ways your family can acknowledge hard emotions and get through them with positive actions.

Activities to prepare a child for working parent travel:

  1. Prepare a calendar together. Make clear the days that you will be away, and what your son will do on those days – don’t leave them empty! Plan some time together before you leave with fun things to do, and something special for when you get back. Write it all on the calendar where he can see it any time.
  2. Play with technology. Get Skype or Facetime or an app on your phone and the home computer. Practice using it from different rooms in the house so he can see how he will see you when you’re away.
  3. Make a plan. When will he get to talk to you? How else can you communicate? Will you email each other? Text together on his Dad’s phone? Write letters? Don’t forget to consider the time difference if there is one.
  4. Take some pictures. Does your son have a great picture of himself with you? Ask if he’d like one for his room or to keep in his pocket. Take some pictures of your fun together before you go. Print them out!
  5. Prepare a way for him to journal. You’ll want to know what your family is doing while you’re away! If your son likes to draw or write, get a blank book so he can draw pictures or explain with words what he does each day, and how he’s doing. If he likes photography better, consider an inexpensive digital camera so that he can show you what they’ve been up to when you get back, and he can send some pictures along while you’re away.


Parents, especially military parents – how do you deal with helping kids get ready for long separations?


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3 thoughts on “10 Tips When a Parent Travels for Work”

  1. Doctor G,
    Thank you! These strategies and activities are exactly the direction I needed to help my son. Your sage advice has filled me with confidence to be able to go on my trip and know that my son (and I!) will have the ability to cope with the distance between us. Thank you so much, again.

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