When the Ball is in Your Court
By Mark T. Schillinger, MSW, LCSW, Kids In The Middle Therapist
Imagine that you are a tennis ball that is being hit back and forth across the court over and over again. As soon as you reach the other side, you get sent back. This is what it can feel like for many children of divorce as they learn to cope with living in two homes. In general, children have difficulty with transitions. Think about the last time you told your child it was bedtime and he argued to stay up 15 more minutes. Living in two homes can be a significant transition for a child, and parents can do many things to help. Like a tennis player has a coach, so do children need parents to “coach” them through the transition. Below is a list of ten suggestions parents can try to help their child have smoother transitions between homes.
- When possible, work with your co-parent to create consistency with rules and expectations between both homes (e.g., homework time, bedtime, etc.).
- Create a visual schedule, or list, of household expectations or routines. This can be especially helpful as your child is adjusting to new expectations and routines (e.g., family schedule, chore list, family rules, etc.). Also, strive to make the schedule, or list, simple and easy to understand. Break down complex tasks into manageable parts.
- Create a monthly calendar that lists your child’s visitation schedule.
- Allow your child to take important items back and forth between homes.
- Create a list of items that your child needs to take when they switch to the other parent’s house.
- Help them gather their belongings as early as possible to avoid rushing and to reduce the likelihood of forgetting something.
- Expect that your child may forget something and don’t make it a big deal. Find a way to give them what they need (and sometimes want) without making them feel shame.
- Some children may need reminders about when a transition may occur, such as telling them when they have two hours before they leave for their mother’s house.
- Create a “transition ritual” that helps your child feel less upset about leaving you. Examples include: having them share what they enjoyed most about the visit or have them choose something they want to do on their next visit (something to look forward to).
- Allow your child to have free time when they first get to your home so they can ease into the transition.