Since the pandemic, business travel has become a much bigger challenge for families. Parents and children are coping with stressful thoughts and feelings resulting from prolonged fear and loss. You’re also spending more time under the same roof on a daily basis. So separating for work travel is more challenging.
Indulging kids in gifts and promises before a trip isn’t the solution. Nor is playing the victim and telling your family you really don’t want to go, but “the boss” is making you. Here are some big ideas that will improve family life in important ways and make business travel easier for everyone:
The real gift you can pass on to your child is your own ease with all kinds of emotions in yourself and them. The first step in helping your child cope with difficult emotions is to find a strategy to calm your own brain when they are upset and listen with an open heart and mind. Just strive to take in what they are feeling and the nature of their difficulty. Listen to understand what they are experiencing from their point of view. Reflect back what you hear – “Sounds like you are pretty angry (really sad, kind of worried, etc.) that I have to be away again this week.” Children feeling seen strengthens your connection and their ability to accept and work through their own emotions. You might also get ready for a less than ideal welcome home sometimes since kids (and even the adult who took care of everything in your absence) may feel angry and ignore you or pick a fight to process those uncomfortable emotions. Get comfortable with powerlessness, which is what you will feel at times about not being able to fix everything for your kids. Keep in mind that your calm attention, curiosity and acceptance go a long way to helping them to find solutions.
The first step in coaching this skill is to listen and reflect children’s emotions as described above. The next step is to make sure you understand the problem according to the child and check to see if you got it right. “So it sounds like one thing you hate about me being away is that I’m not here to put you to bed.” This is reflected in a tentative tone so your child feels free to correct your understanding. Once your child indicates that you got it, you can go on to invite them to brainstorm solutions (preferably without your suggestions). After your child has listed all the solutions they can imagine (without any comments from you about those ideas), you can ask them to think about what might be the outcome for each idea and which one they want to try. You can make a plan about when you’ll follow up and discuss how their plan went. Inviting kids to find solutions will not help ease the impact of your travel, but improve their overall emotional intelligence and effectiveness in the world.
To the best of your ability build in 20 minutes of one-on-one time with your child daily (ideally in addition to their bedtime routine which we hope is a time of sweet but brief connection aimed at getting to sleep). This one-on-one connection works best when it happens at the same time everyday but if it can only be a few times each week, make sure it is as regular and predictable for your child as possible. Avoid technology and interruptions. Do something together that you both enjoy and take delight in your child. Put aside your teaching agenda or any way that you seek to improve your child, and just say positive things about your time together. Have fun, be silly, smile and just enjoy. Children are biologically built to seek connection with their caregivers. In fact, they can’t really develop without it. Filling up your child’s attention bank on a regular basis will build their resilience to cope when you’re apart and tends to improve day-to-day cooperation as well.
Attached are brief handouts for working parents on the important skills of reflective listening and coaching problem-solving:
We also love the list of practical strategies offered by our trusted colleagues at Bright Horizons: “Tips for Working Parents Who Travel for Business.”
For more information about the skills outlined here or to bring Peace At Home Parenting Solutions directly to your workplace, contact us at: Solutions@peaceathomeparenting.com
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