While a relationship breakdown can be devastating, as a parent there is also another factor to consider: how best to support your child/ren through the experience.
The separation or divorce of parents can have a huge impact on children’s wellbeing. For some, their world is turned upside down. It may encompass many changes such as:
- moving house;
- changing schools;
- learning new ways of communicating between parents;
- taking on more responsibility;
- being introduced to their parent’s new partner, etc.
It can be a challenging time for all in involved.
Some of my clients have separated or divorced parents. Parents often ask me how they can best help their child or teen during change overs, and throughout the separation process.
Although every family system is unique and has different circumstances and challenges, I think it can be helpful for parents to be mindful of what may happen during transitions and how they can support their children or teens.
How do Children and Teens Manage Change?
Managing change from moving between two houses can be extremely stressful at first. Young children may become extra clingy, not wanting to leave your side.
With older children, you may find that they do not want to go, and frequently complain.
One way to help them feel more comfortable with the changes between the two households is creating a consistent routine. This may be difficult at the start, but becomes easier with time.
Why is my Child Upset about Moving between Two Households?
It is difficult for children to leave a parent. This is because they love you, and don’t want to live in a house without you.
Your child may be experiencing feelings of guilt about leaving you, and the possibility of having fun without you.
Similarly, when your child is returning to your house they may feel tired and upset about leaving their other parent.
With older children, they may find keeping up with homework, having a job, social life, and playing sports are challenging, and therefore feel that changing between two houses is annoying or an inconvenience.
How to Help Your Child
To make the transition easier when it comes to moving between houses, you can help your child manage and pack their luggage and encourage them about going to see their other parent. This can help them feel supported and organised in a situation where they may feel out of control.
Before your child leaves, make some plans for some fun activities they can do when they get back.
It may be helpful to avoid saying phrases like “I’ll miss you”, to help decrease any feelings of guilt your child may be experiencing. Instead, let your child know that you will be fine and communicate the fun things you have planned for the next time you are together.
It can be extremely stressful and emotionally draining for children if parents ask them to take difficult phone calls, text messages, organise visits themselves, mediate between parents and generally take on a parental role rather. When your child is at your ex-partner’s, it may be helpful for your child to let them be present with them and not contact them too much because it can be really upsetting for them.
When Your Child Arrives
It can be helpful for your child if before they arrive, you communicate the fun things and plans you have organised. This helps them feel excited and gives them something to look forward to during the transition.
There are lots of free fun quality time activities that you can do to spend time with your child – for example, quality time meals, games night, movie night, bike rides, park visits, beach, gardening, arts and craft to name a few. Spending quality time with your kids or teens is a way of helping them to feel supported, and also allows you to maintain a close relationship.
Try and be understanding if your child would like to call or text their other parent before bed.
There is also huge value in creating a space for your child that’s their own, where they can keep their belongings so they feel at home when they are with you.
Conflict at Transition Times
Sometimes it can feel like conflict is unavoidable at times with your ex-partner. If there is often conflict in transition times, consider bringing a third person, or find a neutral spot like a park or school.
During the hand over period, try to avoid making any negative comments to your partner when your children are present.
What are the Long-Term Benefits?
There is a lot of hard work that goes into creating a routine that facilitates transitioning your child between two houses.
However, the children will be better off in the long run by having a relationship with both of their parents.
Author: Larissa Watter, BA Counselling.
Larissa Watter is a Brisbane counsellor, passionate about working with children. She is currently furthering her studies by undertaking a Certificate in Child Centred Play Therapy.
To make an appointment with Larissa Watter try Online Booking. Alternatively, you can call M1 Psychology Loganholme on (07) 3067 9129 or Vision Psychology Wishart on (07) 3088 5422.