Sadly, not all parents that would like to be able to spend time with their children or as much time as they would like to, are able to. Work commitments, new living arrangements and great distance can all lead to parents and children feeling isolated from one another. Let’s talk about some of the ways that you can stay connected even when you are apart.
Connecting with babies and very young children
This can be particularly tricky as babies and small children have a short attention span and it can be difficult to keep them engaged. Sleep and rest times can also make finding appropriate times to connect challenging. It is important for babies and small children to hear your voice and see your face whenever possible. You will need to work with your co-parent to work out some suitable times. Ideally as frequently as possible for short periods of time (maybe only a minute or so) is best. Some parents try the following:
Sing a short song to their baby
Read a short story/picture book
Do a very brief video call
Play your musical instrument
Engage toddlers with some pictures during the video call
Connecting with toddlers and young children
As your child gets older, more options become available. These children can stay engaged for a little longer, though 5 minutes may be the most you will get on a good or bad day. You may need to get creative about how you interact with your child. It may help to stay in communication with your co-parent, who can give you some ideas about activities and events your child is involved in and the current interests that they have. Try to aim for at least 2-3 contact points each week. Some parents try the following:
If using video call, find an interesting environment, rather than sitting at your computer or in the lounge – a park, the garden, the beach
Find things to show your child – may be an interesting flower, shell or insect. Most children love animals, dogs, cats.
Have your child show you things that they are interested in too (be mindful that some parents can find video calls intrusive into their space)
Read a story to your child at bedtime. You could try it so that you both have the same story or book and you can read along together.
Send a letter or postcard to your child. Children still find it exciting to go to the letter box and find something for them there. Sometimes you could send a small gift, small packets of stickers, pencils/pens.
Stay up to date about your child/ren’s welfare and development, so you can engage with them about their interests – the sports, cultural activities they do and hobbies they have, things they have been doing, places they have been (they won’t appreciate you asking the same thing every day)
Connecting with – 8year olds to teenagers
It gets challenging again. It is not unusual for children at this age to be much more focussed on their friendship groups than on the family. Even face to face interactions can be limited to monosyllabic responses and snappy attitudes and you may be wondering why you bother. Do bother, because believe it or not children do notice when their absent parent is also absent in communication. Some children, when they get to the teenage years, may have their own mobile phones and it may work out easier to connect directly with your child this way than through the residential parent, though again be, mindful of the routines in place where they live and respectful of the residential parent. Work out with your child how they like to communicate, it could be text, email, calls, social media messaging. It may be that a weekly phone call is enough for some children with the option to call you whenever they want to. Some parents try the following:
8-12year olds often still like being read to – find a good book to engage them with
Connecting and gaming with their children on line (as appropriate)
Text messaging only
Group video chat with other family members (everyone is involved and it is not drawn out into numerous individual conversations)
Sharing appropriate photos and videos on line
Older children also like to receive something in the mail – it could be a small gift voucher, a book about their favourite subject
It is not easy and it will require commitment and consistency. There may be times when you may be disappointed, frustrated or even angry about your child’s seeming disinterest or unresponsiveness. It is important that you maintain the contact, but adjust it to take into account their age and stage of development and keep current about their interests and what they are doing.
Obviously when children are younger you are going to have to negotiate with the residential parent and have them facilitate and support the contact. If your co-parenting relationship is problematic and agreeing on how communication can work is difficult, you may want to try working through the issues in family mediation.
If you or someone you know finds themselves in conflict with their ex about children’s matters and would like help to navigate through family mediation or would like more information, please contact Latoya Percival or Anna Oxford at Experienced Mediators