Negative impact on children: Challenges of work travel #3

Blogs about the challenges of work travel

Over the coming weeks, I am continuing my blog series about the challenges of work travel. The series started with blogs on the impact of work travel on physical and mental health. Each blog will focus on a different challenge. I’ve written this blog series in anticipation of an upcoming workshop I’ll be facilitating for regional managers who frequently travel for work.

How work travel can negatively impact children

Research from Espino et al (2002) with World Bank employees who travelled frequently for work. They reported a number of negative behavioural changes in young children when one parent was away. These changes included crying, nervousness, clinging, trouble sleeping, arguing with parents and/or peers, defying rules at home and/or school, difficulty concentrating on school work, asking many questions about why the parent had to go away and when the parent is coming home, comments indicating fear that the parent will not return. There were also comments from older children who indicated they typically worried about plane crashes and the safety of the parent who is travelling, particularly in troubled countries.

Espino et al’s (2002) research shared the things children find hardest about a parent's work travel:

  1. lack of daily contact

  2. the travelling parent missing special events like birthdays or important school events

  3. readjusting after the parent returns to the family home

  4. when the travelling parent is away for long periods of time

  5. any unpredictability over the travelling parent’s travel schedule

  6. feelings of confusion which stem from not understanding why their parent is absent or feeling unsafe without the presence of a parent in the family home

What can be done to help?

  1. Stay in touch with family when on a work trip. The frequency of contact and the best time of day to get in touch varies between families and often depends on the age of the children.

  2. As the travelling parent, ensure you arrive and leave conscientiously:

    a) When you arrive home, spend 15-20 minutes with your children to show them lots of affection and catching up with what’s been happening in your absence.

    b) When you leave, make sure you say goodbye to your children. Don’t be tempted to sneak away, prolong your departure or display guilt.

  3. Establish and stick to routines and rituals around the travel process. Some examples might include having a special family meal when the travelling parent arrives home, or maintaining the usual routines at home in the absence or presence of the travelling parent.

How I can help

Increasing children’s ability to articulate their feelings around a parent’s absence tends to help reduce the frequency or intensity of children’s negative behaviour. In order to clearly articulate feelings, it’s vital for children (and their parents!) to develop emotional vocabulary. The activities in my emotion cards come straight from my doctoral research. They increased the emotional vocabulary of the children in my class by over 300% in a very short space of time.

For additional input on developing emotional vocabulary in the family, I offer a one-hour bespoke consultation for parents. In the consultation, I share simple and practical strategies on how to use the emotion cards in a particular family context.

I also provide coaching and consultations for parents, families and children, which are ideal for personalised support for your family on how to best navigate work travel when you have children.