Separation anxiety when a parent travels

Linda Bream offers guidance for parents who travel a lot for work

Q: I travel with work, often for several days at a time. My four-year-old is excited when I come in the door, but then she gives me the cold shoulder and I’ve noticed she relies more heavily on her dad for comfort. It’s breaking my heart. What can I do to help her understand?

A: This sounds like classic separation anxiety. When you travel, your daughter adjusts by transferring her primary connection to her father. This is normal and very adaptable. When you come home, she has mixed emotions. She’s happy to see you (thus the initial greeting), but also angry you left and unsure about when you will leave again (thus the cold shoulder).
She will naturally gravitate to her father, who has been her primary caregiver for the last few days.

To help her with this separation, try to talk to her every day when you are away, even if it is only briefly. The wonders of modern technology have made this easier to do (cellphones, Skype). If time changes or the nature of your business makes this too difficult, you can leave little notes or a small package for her to open when you’re away. Giving her something of yours to keep with her while you are away can also bridge the separation gap.

Talk to her about how she feels when you travel. There may be some hidden or underlying fears she’s not expressing that you can easily allay. There is also a lot your husband can do to help: reassuring your daughter about your safe return, helping her to count the days on the calendar, and planning something special for when you get back. Having his support should help both you and your daughter with the transition.

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