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Tips and Tools for Effective Long-Distance Parenting

Parents desire to be close to their children, to participate in their daily routine and upbringing. After a divorce , one parent may need to move to a different geographic area than his or her child due to a job opportunity, new relationship or other obligation. This is often a challenging situation for all parties involved. There are, however, several strategies and tools that can be used to ensure the parent-child bond remains intact and healthy.

The Value of Communication

Communication is of the utmost importance, and requires increased attention when one parent lives far away. When living under one roof, communication between family members flows naturally. It is easy for parents to check in with their children and see how they are doing, or discuss upcoming events and plans with the other parent. After a divorce and move away, this routine communication often ends, and co-parents need to place a new emphasis on staying in touch.

Oftentimes, long-distance parents set a regular time for calling and talking with their children. Although this type of arrangement may work well for some families, it can sometimes feel like a forced conversation. With younger children in particular, it can be difficult to come up with topics of discussion. It may be helpful to vary the time of calls, make calls more informal and show the child the long-distance parent is often thinking of him or her.

For young children, reading a story over the phone sometimes works well. If both the parent and child have a copy of the book, they can turn the pages together to create more of a shared experience. This is just one example of an activity a long-distance parent and child can engage in to nurture and maintain the parent-child relationship.

Long-Distance Parenting Ideas

  • Make sure to frequently initiate the contact with your child. Don't wait for him or her to get in touch with you.
  • Send postcards, notes or care packages to your child through the mail with words of encouragement or congratulations for his or her achievements.
  • Share in your child's passions. If he or she follows a particular sports team or television show, watch the event or program together and talk afterward.
  • Make a point to write down or otherwise keep track of the names of your child's teachers, coaches, friends and others involved in his or her daily life.
  • Utilize online communication when possible. Parents can often help with homework or play games with their child online.

When you visit your child, try to volunteer at his or her school so you can meet teachers and friends.

Tools for Virtual Visitation

The technology available today makes staying in touch with your child easier than ever. "Virtual visitation" includes a variety of tools that allow you to more-closely connect with your child from a distance, such as:

  • Skype: This is a free computer application, which allows users to place calls over the Internet and video chat.
  • Google Video Chat: Users can place calls or initiate video chats through their Google account.
  • Facetime: Similar to Skype or Google video chat, this application is used by Apple on its computers and iPhones.

No technology can substitute for in-person contact, but these tools can certainly aid in maintaining communication between a long-distance parent and his or her child.

Importance of Co-Parenting

Both parents should be involved in ensuring the child stays connected with the long-distance parent and any parenting plans are followed. Co-parents should work as a team to ensure necessary information is shared from teachers, coaches and doctors. Many online programs exist for this purpose, like Our Family Wizard, which helps parents share information about schedules, activities and upcoming plans.

The parent residing with the child should make sure the child is available for calls and video chats, and give the child necessary privacy when talking to the long-distance parent. Both parents should support and encourage the child's interactions and activities with the other parent.

Co-parents should remember the child is the top priority, and making sure he or she maintains a strong relationship with both parents is of the utmost importance. Neither parent should bad mouth the other to the child, or use the child as a way to gain information about the activities of the other parent. It is also helpful to make sure the child feels comfortable discussing either parent around the other and displaying photos of each parent.

Successful Long-Distance Parenting

Divorce and moving away from your child doesn't mean the end of a healthy parent-child relationship. Good communication, creative parenting ideas and cooperation between co-parents can lead to a strong bond between a long-distance parent and child.

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