I’m leaving for eight days and I have mixed feelings about it. Any time I’ve been away from my now three-year-old he’s done really well — he has great fun with my husband or my mom when I’m gone. But the longest I’ve taken off for is three days, and I have a feeling that this trip is going to be a bit different for both of us.
I realized he can’t grasp what eight days really means when he happily chirped, “Sure mama, that sounds like a great plan. Then you’ll pick me up from school?” when I told him what was about to happen. Clearly, talking it through the way you would with an older child isn’t going to translate perfectly.
So I had to get creative. Here are five ways I’ve come up with to say goodbye to my son and help him (and me) feel good while we’re apart:
1. A concrete, visual way to represent the days. My son and I took paper, made eight circles with them, and linked them into a chain to hang on the refrigerator. Every morning, he can rip off one ring to signify that we’re one day closer to mom coming home. Three-year-olds are pretty concrete thinkers, so putting the abstract concept of time into a form they can see is helpful.
2.Pictures. We picked out a picture for each of us to keep so we can look at them if we miss each other while I’m gone. I asked my son to put his picture of me in a safe place where he can find it if he needs it. He picked the coffee table.
3. Skype. A no-brainer. We scheduled a time to talk that coincides with his nighttime routine. Bath, PJ’s, books, talk to mom.
4. A family meeting. We had dinner to discuss how things would go while I’m gone, with all of us in the same place. It helped my son feel secure that we had a plan and adults were seamlessly in charge.
5. Letters and presents. My son and I brainstormed things we could do if we miss each other. I said, “I know, we could write each other letters.” He replied as if a lightbulb had gone off, with his eyes wide and finger straight up in the air: “I know…E!” So he may need a little coaching on the concept of writing a “letter,” but my husband will help him write me notes while I’m away. If he wants to, at preschool they’ll actually put them in the mail to send me.
And finally, what better silver lining than the prospect of a gift? My son knows well that I’ll be looking for something he might like while I’m gone. He reminds me of this fact every time we talk about it.
From Temper Tantrum to Talking It Through: Emotional development for Toddlers