Child psychologists help families navigate all sorts of challenges, especially those dealing with helping children to grow and develop as well as possible. When parents divorce, this can be twice as much work, because there are twice as many households! Most children do have a challenge with this process, but clear communication, consistent expectations, and predictability can spell success—no matter if parents like each other or not. Read on to find why having consistency between homes is important for your child’s well-being.
Structure and Time
Here’s a common situation that divorced parents face all the time: You go to pick your children up from your ex’s house at 10 a.m. on Sunday, only to find that they are all still asleep. After a chilly wait in the driveway, the kids come out, bleary-eyed, to share their exciting stories of staying up all night the night before. By the way, they haven’t eaten, all their clothes are dirty, and nobody has homework done. When you ask your ex, you hear “when they’re with me, we do laundry and homework on Sunday nights and it works.” What to do? There is no “right” structure, just what is “right” for your family. However, when kids report widely changing bedtimes, meal times, and not enough time to complete homework, the adults need to build in more structure. Sleep hygiene is just as important as getting math practice in, so work together to find something that works for everyone.
Rules and Expectations
If you’ve divorced, you’ve probably heard the scream of “but Mom says I can!” or “we do it this way at Dad’s house!” at least once. Your kids are right to be upset—they thought they were playing by the rules, and all of a sudden, they changed! Imagine driving down a highway that had a speed limit of 55 mph for years and suddenly, without notice or changing the signs, you get pulled over for speeding, because in a certain section of the road, the speed limit is only 40 mph. You’d be outraged! This is how kids feel when rules and expectations change suddenly, and instead of taking responsibility and correcting their behavior, they are more likely to become angry or defiant. Help by setting common rules between households, especially for important rules around safety, hygiene, and success at school .
Calm and Anxiety
Human beings love to know what is coming next. This is even more true for kids, as they have very little control over their lives—for young children, often the most they can do is choose how they respond. So a predictable household and house swap will set him or her up for success by reducing anxiety and promoting calm. Even very young children may benefit from picture-coded or color-coded calendars to see when they will be with mommy, when they will be with daddy, and how much time is in the middle. Likewise, knowing that school, meals, playtime, church, soccer, and other activities will happen no matter where the child is at can help him to feel more secure.
Navigating shared custody after a divorce is always a challenge, but by working together and keeping the child in mind, you can do it successfully! If you need more help or support, consider working with a Littleton child behavior psychologist on strategies .