Easing Transitions Across Households for Children of Divorce

Easing Transitions during divorce across households

by Ann Marie Termini~Traveling between two homes can be difficult for children of divorce.  Each transition requires your child to make several adjustments.  Although your child may be anticipating being with their other parent, they may also experience some sadness at leaving you.  When they leave their other parent, they may experience the same emotions once again.  Coming and going require your child to say “hello” and “good-bye” several times within a brief period of time.

Although comings and goings can be difficult, these occasions can be dealt with effectively by considering the following tips for easing the transition across households.  First, it is important to remember that a transition may be difficult because your child is trying to cope with the feelings associated with the exchange.  A difficult exchange may tempt you to think the worst about your co-parent.  It is easy to assume that the other parent may have done something to damage the relationship between them and your child.  However, children’s resistance may have nothing to do with the other parent.

A young child may not want to leave a parent for fear that this parent may abandon her while she shares time with the other parent.  In addition, it is common for children between 15 and 24 months of age to resist transitions even when children have good attachment relationships with both parents.  This is a normal reaction.  A teenager may be resisting sharing time with a parent because he’d rather be with friends for the weekend.  These situations occur in intact families as well.  They do not necessarily have anything to do with the other parent’s behavior.

Preparing your child for their departure may ease the transition.  If possible, talk to the other parent about their plans for your child.   Let your co-parent know that you are asking for this information in order to prepare the child for the transition.  Share this information with your child before the exchange.  Say to your child, “Mommy is going to take you to the zoo.”  Likewise, you can share this same information with the other parent to help them prepare your child for spending time with you.  Allow your child to transport some of their favorite items such as a stiffed animal, blanket or a book.  Most importantly, have your child ready to leave on time.

During the transition, create a “good-bye” ritual.  For instance, give your child three kisses and a hug  and say, “Love you forever.  See you soon.”  Avoid telling your child you will miss them.  For some children, this creates guilt, and they may worry about your well-being when they are not with you.  Be sure to transfer medication and provide adequate instructions.  Always create a pleasant environment by being courteous and polite to your co-parent.   If you or your co-parent has difficulty controlling your emotions at an exchange, consider a neutral exchange site.  Your child’s school or day care can provide a neutral exchange.  This may require you to change your child’s schedule to accommodate pick-ups and drop-offs at this neutral location.

Prepare for your child’s return by recognizing that they may need some time alone after returning home.  Allow them to spend quite time alone if they choose.  Also, understand that your child may not want to talk about the time they spend with their other parent.  Honor this preference.  By all means, refrain from interrogating your child by asking too many questions and asking for details.  A simple, “How was your weekend?” is enough.   If you child wants to share information they will.   Create a “hello” ritual.  Once your child has settled in, play a game, read a book, or bake a cake.

During the transition process, it is important to acknowledge your child’s feelings and encourage him or her to talk about their feelings.  However, do not pressure them.  Establishing rituals for departure and arrival will ease some of your child’s anxiety.


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About Ann Marie Termini

Ann Marie Termini, Ed.S., M.S., LPC is co-founder and director of the Cooperative Parenting Institute in Clarks Summit, Pennsylvania. She has worked with children and families since 1979. Ann Marie has co-authored several books including Cooperative Parenting and Divorce: 8-Week group program for separating parents, Cooperative Parenting and Divorce: A Parent Guide to Effective Co-Parenting, The Psychotherapist as Parent Coordinator in High Conflict Divorce: Strategies and Techniques and Crossroads. Respected in their field, Ann Marie has conducted numerous seminars on the international and national levels. She has trained parenting coordinators since 1997, and as a result, co-authored the first and only comprehensive model of parenting coordination.

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