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Helping Children Deal with A Parent Going Away

We have been quiet on the blog this week, and that is for a good reason…

At the moment, there are only four of us at home, because Daddy has gone away to work.  This is part of an even bigger upheaval for us, as we will be moving house across the country, where everything is new to us.  It is a huge time of change and uncertainty for us as a family, and potentially unsettling for the children.

I do believe that children are resilient, and that learning to deal with change in a way that is supported by us now will help them learn to deal with change throughout their lives.  Here are some of the ways we have tried to help L and N deal with Daddy being away…

1. Prepare

Before Daddy left, we talked a lot about where he would be going.  We tried to make this concrete by saying at certain times of day – “when Daddy’s away, Mummy will read your story”, and “this time after dinner is when Daddy will ring to talk to you”.  We found that there was a lot of repetition involved, as the children got to grips with the situation.  N repeated often “he’s coming back for us when he finds a new house” – I don’t think she doubted he would, but she was reassured by checking.

2. Use Stories to Communicate

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There are some excellent children’s books out there for almost every eventuality.  This is a great thing, because sometimes I find that children can discuss a story and process it in a way that they can’t do with their own situation.  Many of the books about Daddy working away are aimed at military families, but we have found them useful for us at the moment.

One we have used a lot is:

My Daddy’s Going Away by Christopher MacGregor

Written for children of military families, this book works really well for any children facing a time of separation from Daddy, however long or short – I like the tone of this one, neither depressing nor artificially jolly – and that it celebrates the things Daddies do with their children, and ends with Daddy returning, reinforcing the message that the separation is temporary.

 

3. Develop a ritual

For us, giving the children an extra kiss at night, telling them Daddy has given me a store of kisses to give them at night, has been a way of connecting with Daddy before they go to sleep, and letting them know that he is thinking about them at bedtime even though he isn’t here to read their story as he usually does.

4. Use Technology

Sending photos to Daddy by text is a tangible way of letting the children know that Daddy is still involved in what they are doing.  Quite often they will ask me to send him a text.

Speaking on the phone is perhaps obvious, but L and N will tell me throughout the day, “I’m going to tell Daddy when he rings”, and talking to Daddy on the phone has been part of our teatime and bedtime routines for these few weeks.  It’s worth anticipating that children might not want to talk on the phone – we made a conscious decision not to force them to, or make them feel guilty for not wanting to.  Allowing them to have this on their terms gives them control in a situation they have little control over.  Also, we want them to enjoy chatting to Daddy rather than making it a chore.  There were a couple of days when L didn’t want to – neither did he want to talk to me when I went away for two nights leaving him with grandparents.  It is normal for children to reject a parent that has been away – we have both experienced it.  Given time, they do welcome you back on their own terms.

Email is fantastic for L – practising sounding out and writing words, and thinking through sentences – part of the process of writing at least – whilst keeping in touch with Daddy. There is a real novelty in using the computer too. He has written some brilliant, sweet and affectionate emails that I have had nothing to do with.  Both children love receiving emails, and Daddy has delighted them with some animated graphics and coloured writing!

The computer has also been brilliant in allowing L and N to have a look at our new house via google streetview, which also helps them to understand where Daddy has gone, and why.

5. Talk About the Future

We talk nearly every day about what will happen when Daddy comes back for us – that we will have a new house, that we will be taken there in Daddy’s car, and all our things will be coming with us in a van.  This reminds L and N that this situation is not forever.  Now that we have a definite date, we have a countdown going on – they know exactly how many sleeps it is until we move.

6. Use Pretend Play

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Another way to help the children get to grips with the situation has been through imaginary games.  Children do this quite naturally – we have had Princess Merida moving to a new castle, rabbits moving to new burrows, dogs having new kennels – all involving waving goodbye to the Daddy, then seeing him come back and collect the others.  This is a natural way for them to process and understand the situation, and it is easy to join in and use games to consolidate the points we want them to understand.  Children will often ask questions through play that they can’t otherwise articulate, so it is important to stay tuned in to their play.

7. Send Cards or Notes

We made Valentines Day cards for Daddy using toilet roll tubes as paint stampers, and sent our messages to him

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