Tips for Staying Close when Distance Keeps Families Apart

By: Jolene Roehlkepartain

How do you stay close to family members when you’re separated by distance? Whether it’s because of divorce, a military deployment, a student going off to college, or business trips, keeping in touch while you’re away matters. Research reveals that when family members adapt well to change, they’re more likely to weather the ups and downs of being apart. Read more >


Family members are more likely to adapt well to being separated when they have supportive relationships with their parents and with other adults outside of the home. Support is a key stabilizer when family members are apart.

Strong friendships also provide a buffer. Researchers have identified three ways that friends can be helpful: 1. Friends provide support. 2. Friends with well-functioning families show separated families how to thrive and operate well. 3. Friends help connect young people to school, clubs, and other important organizations.

Learn more about encouraging positive friendships >

Family members who are together are more likely to do well when they spend time together, whether it’s hanging out or doing tasks together, such as cooking, gardening, or doing homework.

Get activity ideas for spending quality time together >

Military families often experience particular stress when a deployed parent is away from home. These families often suffer when the single parent needs to work longer hours or the family feels isolated from other families.

Young people with more of the 40 Developmental Assets are more likely to thrive under stress. Download a free copy of the 40 Developmental Assets.

In my own family, our kids have an aunt and uncle in Scotland, an uncle and cousins in Sweden, and a grandmother living out of state. Staying in touch has been important to keep these relationships strong. Social networking also helps, particularly for staying in touch overseas.

Tenessa Gemelke, the author of Stay Close, highlights a number of creative ways to stay connected when you’re apart:

• Have an audio or visual scavenger hunt. What child doesn’t enjoy a scavenger hunt? Receiving a video file, a bunch of pictures, or even mp3 clues through the Internet can create intrigue and interest.

• Encourage family members to send interview questions to each other. Then video tape the questions and answers to send back. Gemelke suggests creating a talk-show format, such as “Gabbin’ with Grandpa” or “Aunt Lisa’s Variety Show.”

• Have your child cut out a photo of him- or herself and mail it to your separated family member. Have your family member take photos of himself doing things with the photo version of your child. You can get a lot of ideas from the children’s book Flat Stanley by Jeff Brown (New York: HarperCollins, 2003).

• When you send gifts, use plain paper for wrapping. Then cover the paper with jokes and riddles.

In many ways, it doesn’t matter how you stay in touch. What matters is that you do. Some families enjoy Skyping with each other. Others enjoy talking on the phone or sending postcards to each other. If you’re a mom or dad who travels a lot, carry postcard stamps with you. And whenever you’re at another airport, buy postcards of the city you’re in, and mail them to the kids. Another idea for traveling moms and dads is to always carry a stuffed frog with you so that when you return home, the frog will have many adventures to tell—to the delight of your kids.

So get creative. Figure out simple, easy ways to stay in touch. And then have fun keeping connected.

1. Shelley M. MacDermid, Rita Samper, Rona Schwarz, Jacob Nishida, Dan Nyaronga, Understanding and Promoting Resilience in Military Families (West Lafayette, IN: Military Family Research Institute at Purdue University, 2008).

2. Peter Scales, Peter Benson, Nancy Leffert, and Dale Blyth, “Contribution of Developmental Assets to the Prediction of Thriving among Adolescents,” Applied Developmental Science 4(1), 2000, 27-46.

3. Tenessa Gemelke, Stay Close: 40 Clever Ways to Connect When You’re Apart (Minneapolis: Search Institute Press, 2005).

4. Search Institute’s 40 Developmental Assets, ParentFurther.

5. Image via Tony the Misfit on Flick’r.


I am in relocation and far from our close family
We are using Ipad game called Pic-A-Who which is an educational game that helps your child rapidly learn faces, shapes, animals and other objects by sight and sound. You put your own pictures inside amazing themes, then narrate them with your own voice
Great for military families or parents working far from kids
Staying Close when Distance Keeps Families Apart as you said :)


These are some great tips. It is hard when family is separated for whatever reason. It seems that worry just goes with the territory but these tips are wonderful and will help out a lot.



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