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How to Help Children Stay Connected to the Long-Distance Parent

Issues Kids Deal With //

When a parent lives out of state and not close to the children, it can be a real challenge to keep the relationship alive. However, there are several things you can do to help the long-distance parent stay connected. If the long-distance parent is in your church, offer the following suggestions.

The main thing is to create a relationship with the child. It takes work, concentration and time to develop and nurture these far away relationships. Many elementary-age children become bored or disillusioned with long-distant connections. After the initial “Hi, how you doing” most kids won’t have too much to say.

While using Facetime or a video chat might make it seem like the parent is closer, the call will still fall flat if there is no relationship between the parent and child. Kids are busy and active and for the most part they don’t want to be tied to talking to an adult, even a far away adult.

Connection tips

If the parent the child lives with is cooperative, then that parent can prompt some “talking point” ideas during the week.

  • Keep a “Things to tell my dad/mom” list on the refrigerator
  • The child can scribble short notes of things to tell the other parent
  • They can collect artwork, spelling test and other things to show the parent if on a video chat or Face time
  • The parent who lives with the child can also make short notes about things the child can tell the other parent. When the parent calls, pull the list off the fridge and have at it available for the child to see.

The main thing is to encourage the out-of-state parent to stay connected. Single dads usually ask yes or no questions. Encourage them to stay away from yes or no questions. These types of questions do not stimulate conversation.

Also tell them to stay away from questions with a one-word answers such as, “How was school today?” The kid will probably say, “Fine!” and that’s the end of that line of conversation.

Instead encourage the long-distant parent to find out what the child’s school subjects are and ask specific questions such as,

  • So Mondays are the day you get your new spelling words?
  • How many words do you have this week?
  • What are the hardest words for you to spell?
  • How about if I call you on Thursday night and ask you to spell different words? That way I can help you with your spelling test on Friday. Now you have to promise not to be looking at the words when I call. And if you want, you can give me a spelling test.”

The same line of thinking can take place for sports, church and extra curricula activities.

The text connection

Texting is an excellent way to stay connected. Texting is short and an excellent way to converse back and forth when one doesn’t have a lot of time. Texting can be done at any time and the child doesn’t have to worry about interrupting the parent’s job.

While not a lot of kids use email now days, still emails can be used for longer discussions. For some children they will have the freedom to say whatever they want in an email. But for others, they will experience the split loyalty thing. They may think, “If I say such and such, is it going to hurt my dad’s / my mom’s feelings if he/she reads it?” (Meaning the parent the child lives with).

Social networks and video chats

Some of the social networks work great for communicating with an out-of-state parent. If the child can set up their own private FaceBook page, then they can post pictures and the parent who is out of state can observe daily interactions.

For any elementary age child using a social network, though, it needs to be set up so that all information is private and only the parents, grandparents and other people the parent approves of should be able to access it.

Tweens and teens can also consider a private Facebook page just between the child and the long-distant parent.

When the child visits the out-of-state parent, tell the parent to take a lot of pictures. Gradually over the next few months and during the school year, pictures from the visit can be sent to the child. These will serve as gentle reminders of the fun times had during the summer, winter or spring break vacations.

Other touch points to consider

  • Send cards for every occasion. Getting something in the mail is still exciting for a child. There are calendars you can purchase that celebrate every type of day one can imagine. Sending cards on special and fun days to the child serve as gentle reminders that the other parent cares enough to make an effort to contact them.
  • Celebrate silly occasions
    • 1.  For instance for National Smores Day, which is August 10th, send a note and tell the child to have a “Smores” on that day.
      2.  Even better mail all the ingredients to make Smores to the child.
      3.  Video chat you making Smores at the same time as the child.
      4.  Eat your Smores together.
  • Send movie DVDs and schedule a time to talk about the DVD later.
  • Play a game together online.
  • For younger children, using a video chat read them a bedtime story once or twice a week.
  • A parent can exchange songs with the child. Sing a song together on a video chat.
  • Share your life with your child. It shouldn’t be a one-way conversation about what your child is doing but it should also be about what the parent has going on.
  • Share prayer requests and pray with your child
  • Remember every holiday and send a small gift. This includes Valentine’s Day, Easter, 4th of July, Thanksgiving and of course Christmas. It doesn’t have to be much, but something that says, “Hey kid, I’m thinking about you.”
  • NEVER EVER forget a birthday!

Relationships become strong by each person contributing to the relationship and the conversation. Children want to know what the other parent is doing. If you heard a joke or heard a new song or found a passage in the Bible that was meaningful, then share those things. This creates strong bonds between parent and child.

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About the Author

Linda has been a children’s ministry director, developed DC4K (DivorceCare for Kids, dc4k.org), operated a therapeutic child care, and has extensive experience at successfully accommodating challenging behaviors. She currently serves as the DC4K Ambassador and Professional blogger at http://blog.dc4k.org.