Kids with Two Homes: Helping Children with Transition in Divorce
When a family separates, one of the biggest adjustments is having the children transition between homes. The following article summarizes tips and resources from some of the leading child-psychologists on how help children feel comfortable with having two places to call home. This article also provides information on how the mediation process can assist parents in creating a co-parenting schedule that puts the needs of the children first.
A lot of change comes with separation/divorce and children are not always the most receptive to disruptions in their routine. The following resources have tips for parents so they can help their children through the adjustment:
Judith Ruskay Rabinor, Ph.D., author of “Befriending Your Ex After Divorce: Making Life Better for You, Your Kids and Yes, Your Ex” suggests:
1. Make the new home(s) familiar. Children will respond positively to a new environment
if it’s familiar. If the child has a few favourite items, duplicate them so that they can have them in each home or have them in an overnight bag so they child can take it with them between homes. Even ordinary items like plates/cups with their favourite character or the same colour room and bed sheets as their previous home, can go a long way.
2. Keep dual calendars. Both parents should have a visual calendar of the co-parenting schedule for their children to see. The calendar should have dates when the children are with parent 1 in a specific colour and parent 2 in another. It should also mention any events where both parents will be in attendance. Having a visual reference will let your child know what to expect, which will give them a sense of control over transitioning between homes.
Christina McGhee, MSW, author of “Parenting Apart” suggests:
3. Minimize the back and forth. According to McGhee, each transition brings with it “settling-in time” and “adjustment time” two factors which can escalate a child’s stress level. If possible, create a custody schedule with less transitions and longer visits.
4. Have the same sleep routine. Tired children are anxious children! both parents should have the same sleep routine for their children. Prior to separating both parents should have an agreement about what time children go to sleep during the school year, on weekends and during school breaks/ holidays. Having a consistent bedtime routine – especially for young kids, will reduce anxiety and keep them happy and healthy.
5. Use a buffer zone. If transitioning between homes makes the children upset, try transitioning at a neutral place like school, a park or restaurant. Both parents can stay with the child in the neutral space for a little bit to allow the child to adjust to leaving one parent for the other.
How to Create a Child-Focused Parenting Plan
Family mediation is a process whereby a neutral third party (mediator) assists ex-spouses with resolving separation/divorce issues such as – support, property division, custody and parenting schedules.
A parenting plan is a written document that outlines how co-parents will work together to raise their children. In mediation, co-parents can discuss their shared parenting values and how best to support their children together through the transition. The parenting plan can get as detailed as the parties prefer; common elements include (but not limited to):
*parenting schedules for the school year, school-breaks and holidays;
*how parents will share information and contact each other in times of emergency;
· *childcare / babysitting arrangements;
· *how both parties will communicate with the children while in the care of the other parent;
*how parents will support their children with extra-curricular activities, health issues and transitioning from both homes; and,
· *how parents will introduce new romantic partners to the children.
The mediation process is voluntary and collaborative; it empowers ex-spouses to work together for the best interests of their children. Unlike any other process available to separating/divorcing families, mediation allows co-parents the most control in creating a parenting plan that is unique to their children’s needs.