When a parent must travel (even occasionally), it can leave a giant hole in how things function at home. Activity schedules, homework, and even meals can send the family scrambling to make things work when one parent is absent.
A child who is easily upset by change can suffer the most. The home is often the one place where the child feels as if she knows how things operate. The surroundings are familiar and the routines comforting. When a parent is gone, the comfort zone is disturbed.
A child who is nonverbal may suddenly begin to act out. Her actions say: “I don't understand or like what is happening.” A child who has Asperger's syndrome may suddenly become preoccupied. Her focus at school can be drastically different than the norm. At home, she may ask repeatedly about the absent parent. It is not that she doesn't understand that the parent is gone; it is just very upsetting to the predictability of her world.
Avoiding the Upset
As much as possible, let your child know in advance about who will be gone. You may have a family calendar that can help your child visualize the time period when the parent will be away. Assure your child that the absence is only temporary. Realize that even with discussion ahead of time, your child's world will still be upset. You will likely see some evidence of her feelings through her behaviors.
Getting Back to Normal
Even if the absence is a few hours in the afternoon, a time of readjustment may be necessary. If you were the missing parent, your child may initially seem happy to greet you; then she may switch to avoiding you. She is letting you know that she was not happy that you were gone. It may seem like she is punishing you. Be pleasant and available so she can let you back into her world. Assure her that you are happy to be home. Plan some special time to do something you enjoy doing together.