Family Law

How Can I Help My Children With Custody Transitions?

By Melissa Heinig, Attorney
Learn how to help your children with custody changes.
Families that go through divorce are familiar with the intense emotions that come with ending a marriage. These feelings don’t vanish simply because a judge signs the final divorce judgment.

Children Need Help Adjusting to new Routines

A divorce brings many changes, both during and after the process. Parents should work together to make sure their children feel as safe and secure as possible during this life-changing experience.

Adults are usually better equipped to adjust to divorce-related changes, such as new schedules, living arrangements, jobs, schools, and child care providers. Children, on the other hand, thrive with stability, routines, and structure— all of which are at risk if parents don’t take proper steps to help their children cope with life after divorce.

Children crave consistency and security, so parents should schedule a time to sit down with them before making any changes and explain what the children should expect. Any change in custody and the amount of time a child will spend with either parent, however minor, may feel drastic to a child. Remind the children that none of these changes are their fault and that you love them.

Let the Children Know What to Expect

Consider creating a custody calendar for your children, which corresponds with the schedules for each parent’s home. The calendar can include visitation days, after school activities, fu n family outings, and anything else that parents believe the child should know. Asking the children to help create the calendar as a fun project will give them a sense of control in a very uncertain situation.

To eliminate surprise, parents should make it a habit to remind the children that they’re scheduled to visit their other parent at least a day beforehand.

Help Your Child Feel Comfortable While Away From Home

To ease separation anxiety during the other parent’s visitation, consider sending a familiar stuffed animal or a family photo with your child. You can help pack your child’s things and have a conversation about what feelings may be coming up during that time. Parents might consider asking their kids to select a few personal items for each parent’s home that will make them feel more comfortable wherever they are.

Each parent should also allow a reasonable amount of telephone contact with the other parent during visitation.

Pay close attention to how the children react before and after each visit with the other parent. If the children seem anxious or upset when it’s your turn to pick them up, consider creating a routine that will take place at the start of every visit. For example, if your child enjoys coloring, take 15 minutes to color at the beginning of your time together. This should help the child to relax during the transition.

If coloring isn’t something the child enjoys, ask the child what they love to do, and make it happen. Schedule a walk in the park, a sing-a-long in the car, or work on a puzzle together. Parents should make it a priority to continue this routine, which the children can use when they return home as well.

Work on Communication With Your Coparent

If parents want the best for their children, it’s necessary to work together and communicate. Remember that despite the divorce, you both still want the best for your children. Make it a point not to fight during exchanges and never discuss custody—or any other child-related issues—in front of your children. If you’re having trouble communicating, consider enrolling in coparenting counseling or classes to work on these issues.

Divorce is difficult, but with a little planning and better communication, parents can ease the stress and burden on the children.

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