Q&A: how to communicate with toddler when we are apart for two weeks

I'm doing that Fast Company Influence Project thing, so click here and it'll tell how much online influence I have. (Is this going to be just a glorified slam book? I hope not...) And now to the question.

Kathrine writes:

"This weekend I brought my 28 month old son to my parents house for a2 week "vacation" (for everyone except my parents).   The idea was that he would get out of the summer heat in the city and be in a cooler climate, have lots of time outdoors, go to the pool, dig in the dirt, and do all the things he loves... only with his grandparents, not his parents. I'm also due with my second child in six weeks and needed time to get in a few weeks of work and dissertation writing before baby arrival.

I started explaining two days before I left that I had to go back to NY to go to work and keep his dada company and that we would see him soon.  And we together talked about all the fun things that he would do with his grandparents.  We started a journal so he and his grandmother could write down what they did each day.  Each time we talked about it he was quiet and thoughtful, but didn't resist the idea or protest.  I left yesterday and when he woke up from his nap and I was not there he cried a little, asked where I was, but had a fun afternoon with my parents.

So now our question how much and in what form we should communicate with him while he is there.  Specifically, do you think it is a good idea to speak on the phone every day with him, perhaps to call via skype so that he can see us as well?  On the one hand, and based on experience when one of us (my husband or me) has been traveling, it does make him sad to see us on the computer and he says things like "mama should come out of the computer", and cries afterwards.  On the phone he also says things like "you should come here" or "I want to go home and be with Dada now".   On the other hand, we can't just not talk to him for 12 days.

Do you have any advice on what we should do, how to keep in touch without making him upset every day?  Or is there no way to avoid his being upset, but it is still important for him to hear our voices every day?"

Two weeks is a looooooong time for a 2-year-old, so there's no way you can not talk to him during that time. Especially because he's just coming out of a big separation anxiety stage (the one that hits some kids like a ton of bricks right around age 2, accompanied by another sleep regression from around 24-27 months) and needs reassurance that his parents are still there.

He's still too little to really understand why he's there and you're not, or why you're at home and he's not, or the concept of "vacation." (I, on the other hand, would kill to spend two weeks at your parents' house outside of the city.) He is having fun with your parents, but is probably still perplexed and maybe even worried about where you are and when he'll see you again. So yes, even if it upsets him, you need to talk to him every day.

I think that since he's so young, it might be helpful if you could video Skype so he can see you. It will also probably help if there's an activity for the call so it's not just him getting upset and you trying not to get him upset. Reading books to him over Skype (with a copy that one of your parents holds for him there and you reading from a copy at home) might be an activity he enjoys, or singing songs with him. You also might make a countdown calendar of some sort and count down another day with him on the phone. (Making construction paper links in a chain is a classic, so he can rip off another link each day.)

I'm betting that your parents are able to distract him so that he doesn't stay upset for long after the call. (It's the classic "kid cries when you leave but if you hide quietly on the other side of the door you hear laughter in 3 minutes" scenario.) But it might help you if one of your parents could snap a pic of him happy and send it to you after you talk so you know he's not upset all the time.

This is a challenging situation, for sure, because he needs to hear from you even if it makes him sad in the short term.

Has anyone else been in a similar situation of being separated from such a young toddler? How did you stay connected while not making your child more upset about the separation?