Things to Do When You Cannot Be with Your Child
Ways to supplement face-to-face visits or when those are not possible

by Rose Marie Wentz •

  • Make a top 10 list of what you like about your child. Send it to them; may be one each day.
  • Send pictures of yourself doing different activities, in different places, making funny faces, etc. Make a video or audiotape of you reading bedtime stories. Send it to your child along with the book.
  • Send a letter each day by mail or email. Start a letter and take it with you throughout the day (or think about what to put in the letter throughout the day). Add a sentence every now and then and be sure to add where you are when you write the different sentences (i.e., at work, cooking, eating).
  • Find unique things to write your letters on, for example, things your child likes—a favorite color of paper, stickers, or pictures of things they like; fun objects—napkins, pictures of you.
  • If you both have internet, go on a virtual field trip with your child. Use a chat program so you can communicate while looking at the web sites. Places to start would be NASA or PBS. More trips listed by the child’s grade can be found here. Many museums, parks, and zoos offer virtual field trips.
  • Draw pictures of what you do all day. Be sure to include things like what you eat and what you read. Things that you might think are boring, your kids will be very interested in reading about when they cannot see you. Have your child do the same.
  • Go on imaginary outings during your phone calls/online chats. “Imagine we are going to our favorite place to get ice cream…”
  • Play online games together. Ask your child which games they like to play. Many can be played together online. Video chat app programs have games and program that puts hats, faces, and other things on the people on the screen. Young children can love playing these games and stay very engaged with the other people on the screen.
  • For older children, help with homework or home schooling.

Adapted from: National Long Distance Relationship Building Institute. (2001). 20 long distance activities for dads at a distance

Tips for adults video chatting with young children

  • Practice looking at the camera. It is tempting to keep your eyes on your own picture, or the images on the screen, but you really make eye contact when you look at the camera, which is better for interactive communication.
  • If there is an adult with your child, ask them to help engage the child in activities with you. It is OK to talk to that adult, just make sure all conversation is focused on interacting with the child and not about adult issues.
  • Keep very young children engaged with you by playing peek-a-boo: turn the camera away from you, then back to your face. Sometimes when the camera comes back you can surprise the kids by showing a book, or toy, or something else you want to talk about.
  • Make sure to use the same greeting each time and in the same tone of voice when chatting with infants and toddlers. Infants and toddlers learn to recognize and feel comfortable with a real person on the screen when they hear that same sound each time they see the person. This is important because they often depend more on smell and touch when meeting a person. On video chat they need more visual and sound cues to recognize you.
  • Think of new questions to begin each chat. The questions can be silly.
  • Avoid talking too much about the virus or why you cannot be together right now. Of course, truthfully answer your child’s questions about these difficult topics. Your child may be worried about you and if you will get sick. Reassure your child about your situation. If you are sick, give your child the information they can understand based on their age.
  • Use a lot of gestures and facial expressions. Be close to the camera, but not so close that your video partner can’t see your hands. Don’t be afraid to move—don’t be a talking head.

Click here for more suggestions from Rose Wentz.