Focus on the Family

Long-Distance Visitation

How to make traveling smoother for you and your child

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When parents live in two different locations, it makes visitation arrangements more complicated. It's never easy to put children on a plane alone. They may be nervous about flying, and you may be uncomfortable with potential dangers. There's also the time apart — both parent and child will miss each other. Here are some tips that will help you and your children through the experience:

Be prepared. Give yourself extra time beyond what you typically need for a flight. If your child is a minor, there is additional paperwork and expense involved. Make sure you investigate the airline's Web site so you know what to expect.

Escort your child. Ask the airline if you can escort your child to the gate. They will not let you board the plane and settle your child into his seat, but walking him to the gate will ease anxiety for him and for you. If you have an older child, ask if he prefers to board unattended. (as long as your child is over 14).

Create traditions. Make a family tradition out of departure week. Take your child on a date, enjoy a special meal together or purchase a book or card game for the plane ride. Consider packing a special mystery bag that he can open once he boards the plane.

Stay. Stick around after your child boards the plane. There may be a delay, and you want to be there if passengers end up being escorted off.

Communicate. Use creative ways to stay in touch with your child. Consider mailing a letter a few days before your child leaves, so it's there when she arrives at the other parent's house. In the note, encourage the relationship with the other parent, wish your child a wonderful visit and let her know you'll be praying for her. Text message or e-mail a love note after a few days, or put a couple of special songs on his iPod. Keep a balance though. You want to let your child know you care, but you also want him to fully engage with the other parent. Don't over-communicate.

Be available. If your child does need to talk, suggest she try the other parent first, but also ensure her that you are available to be a listening ear.

Arrive early. When your child returns, again give yourself extra time to get to the airport. Most airlines will give you a gate pass (even for older children) if you visit the check-in counter. Be at the gate with a welcome sign and a big smile. Your child needs to know that she was missed.

Listen. Give your child permission to share all the highlights of his visit. Make eye contact, smile, nod your head and share his joy. He needs to know that it's OK to have fun with the other parent. As you engage, you'll find your child will open up willingly about his adventures. If you express disinterest or sadness over his joy, he will learn to hide that part of his life from you.