How to help children stay connected to the long-distance parent



When a parent lives out of state and not close to children, it can be a real challenge to keep the relationship alive. However, there are several things you can do to help the long-distance parent stay connected. If the long-distance parent is in your church, offer the following suggestions.

The main thing is to create a relationship with the child. It takes work, concentration, and time to develop and nurture these faraway relationships. Many elementary-age children become bored or disillusioned with long-distant connections. After the initial “Hi, how are you doing?” most kids won’t have too much to say.

While using Facetime or video chat might make it seem like the parent is closer, the call will still fall flat if there is no relationship between the parent and child. Kids are busy and active, and for the most part, they don’t want to be tied down talking to an adult, even a faraway adult.

Connection tips

If the parent the child lives with is cooperative, then that parent can prompt some talking-point ideas during the week.

  • Keep a “Things to tell my dad/mom” list on the refrigerator.
  • The child can scribble short notes of things to tell the other parent.
  • The child can collect artwork, spelling tests, and similar things to show the parent on a video chat or Facetime.
  • The parent who lives with the child can also make short notes about things the child can tell the other parent. When the parent calls, pull the list off the fridge and have it available for the child to see.

The main thing is to encourage the out-of-state parent to stay connected. Single dads usually ask yes-or-no questions. Encourage them to stay away from yes-or-no questions. These types of questions do not stimulate conversation.

Also, tell them to stay away from questions with one-word answers, such as, “How was school today?” The kid will probably say, “Fine!” and that’s the end of that line of conversation.

Instead, encourage the long-distant parent to find out what the child’s school subjects are and ask specific questions such as:

  • “So Mondays are the day you get your new spelling words?”
  • “How many words do you have this week?”
  • “What are the hardest words for you to spell?”
  • “How about if I call you on Thursday night and ask you to spell different words? That way I can help you with your spelling test on Friday. Now you have to promise not to be looking at the words when I call. And if you want, you can give me a spelling test.”

The same line of conversation can be used with sports, church, and extracurricular activities.

The text connection

Texting is an excellent tool to stay connected. Texting is short and a great way to converse back and forth when one doesn’t have a lot of time. Texting can be done at any time, and the child doesn’t have to worry about interrupting the parent’s job.

While not a lot of kids use email nowadays, email can still be used for longer discussions. Some children find the freedom to say whatever they want in email. But others experience split loyalty. They may think, “If I say such and such, is it going to hurt my dad’s/mom’s feelings if he/she reads it?” (meaning the parent the child lives with).

Social networks and video chats

Some social networks work great for communicating with an out-of-state parent. If the child can set up his own private Facebook page, then he can post pictures, and the parent who is out of state can observe daily interactions.

For any elementary-age child to use a social network, though, it needs to be set up so that all information is private, and only the parents, grandparents, and other people the parent approves of should be able to access it.

Tweens and teens can also consider a private Facebook page just between the child and the long-distant parent.

When the child visits the out-of-state parent, tell the parent to take a lot of pictures. Gradually, over the next few months and during the school year, pictures from the visit can be sent to the child. These will serve as gentle reminders of the fun times had during the summer, winter, or spring break vacations.

Other touch points to consider 

  • Send cards for every occasion. Getting something in the mail is still exciting for children. There are calendars you can purchase that celebrate every type of day one can imagine. Sending cards on special and fun days to the child serve as gentle reminders that the other parent cares enough to make an effort to contact them.
  • Celebrate silly occasions:

    • For instance, for National S’mores Day on August 10, send a note telling the child to have a s’mores on that day.
    • Even better, mail all the ingredients to make s’mores to the child.
    • Video chat while you make s’mores at the same time as the child.
    • Eat your s’mores together.
  • Send movie DVDs, and schedule a time later to talk about the DVD.
  • Play a game together online.
  • For younger children, use video chat to read them a bedtime story once or twice a week.
  • A parent can exchange songs with the child. Sing a song together on video chat.
  • Share your life with your child. It shouldn’t be a one-way conversation about what your child is doing, but it should also be about what the parent has going on.
  • Share prayer requests, and pray with your child.
  • Remember every holiday, and send a small gift. This includes Valentine’s Day, Easter, Fourth of July, Thanksgiving, and, of course, Christmas. It doesn’t have to be much but something that says, “Hey, kid, I’m thinking about you.”
  • NEVER EVER forget a birthday!

Relationships become stronger as each person contributes to the relationship and the conversation. Children want to know what the other parent is doing. If you hear a joke or a new song or find a meaningful passage in the Bible, then share them. This creates strong bonds between parent and child.


This article is updated and adapted from an article originally published on the Kids & Divorce blog on July 10, 2014.

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