The Royal Navy and Royal Marines Children’s Fund has recently launched a campaign called Kid Years, which is all about helping children to deal with the long-term absence of a parent.
For many children, an absent parent can hinder their development, while research suggests they may even perceive time to be longer when they are engaged in more difficult tasks. So, if a child is finding the absence of a parent difficult, they may perceive time to be longer than it actually is.
As part of the Kid Years, psychologist Dr. Carolyne Keenan has put together some top tips designed to help children deal with parental absences as well as to help open up conversations within families.
- Measure and visualise time. You can do this by marking days off on a calendar. By creating a visual countdown the process is easier to digest and understand by a younger person. Another way to do this is by taking two jars and fill one with marbles (one for each day you expect the parent to be away) then transfer one marble into the empty jar each day so that the child has a visual aid for how much time has passed and how much is left to go.
- Keep the absent parent in your routines. Are there songs that you listen to together, books you read or food you always eat together? Try to ensure that these things continue throughout the time they are away to help your child to keep the absent parent in mind.
- Remembering key milestones. It might be helpful for the parent who is going away to write out cards or letters to your child for any events that they know they are likely to miss whilst they are away. It can mean a lot for the child to be able to read messages in the absent parents own words especially if they might not be able to speak to them on those days.
- Leave an emotional reminder. Giving the child something that belongs to the parent who is going away can be comforting, a favourite piece of clothing or a cuddly toy, for example, which they can use when they are missing the person to help them to feel closer.
- Look after yourself as well. Take time out to make sure that you are getting support too. The absence of a parent is hard for children, but it is also hard for the parent who is caring for the child, especially if you are used to sharing the responsibilities.
- Allow your child to express their feelings. We can try to help children feel better by telling them everything will be OK and not to worry, but we also need to let them talk too. The absence of a parent can bring up lots of confusing feelings so it is important that they are able to express things like anger, sadness, worry so that they can be offered reassurance that is relevant to how they are feeling at the time.
- Talk to them. Make sure that your child understands why the parent is going away. This might alleviate potential worries that the absence is their fault and can help them to understand why they have to go.
To help parents, the RNRM Children’s Fund has commissioned a work of children’s literature called Zoe and the Time Rabbit – the story of a girl’s emotions when her daddy goes away.
For more information about the Kid Years campaign or to request a copy of the book, please visit www.rnrmchildrensfund.org.uk/kid-years-campaign/.
For more information on Dr. Carolyne Keenan, visit www.carolynekeenan.co.uk