Relationship transitions are challenging. Separation and divorce can be very distressing for adults in many ways. Dealing with an ending, whether desired or not, involves a deep grieving process and in time we do heal and settle into a new path or life direction. As adults, we have more conscious control over these circumstances, the way things will happen and the plan for the future.
Yet, when a separation or divorce occurs, it is the children who have minimal control over the situation, and are in a more challenging place. When, as customary, they are in a co-parenting visitation arrangement, children are the ones experiencing the most stress.
We do know that healthy co-parenting communication is essential to maintain a safe, stable and secure home environment for children. The Association for Family Courts recommend the ACT approach to co-parenting communication:
A= Accurate – Be factual in content
C= Complete – Provide all information needed
T= Timely- Be consistent with information when it needs to be known.
Having a consistent schedule, regular communiques to keep each parent updated, creating a common purpose for the children, and making rules consistent for both homes, facilitates stability. Here are a few more “Do’s and Don’ts” for healthy co-parenting relationships:
- Maintaining a “we” form of language, for instance, “We need to make sure that homework is done before bedtime.” This tells the child parenting is being shared by both parents.
- Practicing the golden rule, being direct and honest with children and communicating at their level of understanding keeps them included in what is happening in their lives.
- Being courteous with each other and keeping children away from parents’ issues are all part of giving children the message they are safe and cared for.
Research indicates the most stressful adjustment for children is the transition between two homes. Parents can help to ease this stress daily so the weekly exchanges can be smoother and more comforting for the child.
Here are a few tips:
- Post a regular schedule that is a visible calendar that highlights days at each home. Bring the children into the process to color and decorate it, and make them a part of seeing the big picture for how things will go week to week. This will bring a sense of control and being aware of what is happening to them in their world.
- Create a positive ritual for the departure and re-entry. If the child is old enough to articulate, a routine for every time the transition occurs, they can make it fun and build a positive connection to each parent’s home. Let the child take a favorite object, toy or something special such as a note in their backpack, from each parent to comfort them when going back and forth between homes. A re-entry routine can bridge the adjustment back and forth and ease the potential anxiety of not knowing what to expect. Create what will happen and then talk about a plan for it. Make a craft or fun checklist to help them plan what they need to bring back and forth. Give children something to look forward to during the transition. A transitional activity can help – a puzzle, game, song, favorite movie and or a special meal upon returning can be soothing and reassuring.
- Have an agreement with each parent to let the child communicate while they are apart from the other parent. Make an agreement to text, say “good night” or “good morning”, or if lonesome, let the child make a quick phone call to help the child connect with the absent parent. It gives that parent the chance to ask, “How was your day? or “Are you having a good time at Daddy or Mommy’s house?” Children just need to hear a voice or message that says they were missed and loved and cared for while apart.
- Keep the same rules and expectations for each home. Post the same family rules at each home so that the children will not have to change their mindset between homes. This will ease their sense of uncertainty. Include the children in the process of making the rules so everyone knows and agrees to follow them.
- Keep adult issues between parents and re-affirm to the children that they are not responsible to carry information between homes. Use a regular communique between parents to address issues that will let the child be fully present with each parent when they are together.
Along the way, ask everyone, “How is this working?” Find out if there is something to do differently and then brainstorm solutions together.
These are just a few ideas for helping children and families manage frequent transitions throughout their lives and make the exchanges easier and more positive for all.
“Speak to your Children as if they are the wisest, kindest, most beautiful and magical humans on earth, for what they believe is what they will become.” B. Hampton
by Cindy Ryan, PhD, CEAP
Professional Staff at CWFL