Successful Transitions
Helping Your Children Move Between Homes

Transitions occur when children move from one parent's home to the other parent's home. Anyone who has ever participated in this knows that the process of moving between parents can be stressful - for the adults and children. And yet, being able to spend time with both parents is absolutely critical for children's healthy adjustment to divorce.

Why are Transitions Stressful?

There is a huge paradox at play in divorce: What is typically best for the adults (i.e. ending the marriage/relationship and terminating contact with that person) is not best for the children (who need ongoing, healthy contact with both parents.) For the vast majority of adults, divorce has an ending point. For children, divorce simply means a change in their family structure, not an end.

Transitions can be stressful for many reasons:

  • As human beings you have feelings related to the ending of your relationship. Especially in the early stages of the divorce, seeing the other person is likely to activate those feelings.

  • Moving children between parents can be inconvenient. It takes planning and organization - two attributes that are not everyone's strengths.

  • You may not agree with the parenting plan and are reluctant to support it.

  • Not having your children with you 100% of the time is one of the most difficult aspects of divorce.

  • Some children really dislike moving between two homes. They want one home base.

In divorce, children are always saying goodbye to a parent.

Tips for Successful Transitions

There are many actions that parents can take to ensure that transitions between homes go as smoothly as possible. Perhaps the main action is to be tuned in and aware. Don't allow yourself to go on "auto pilot" when it comes to this important aspect of parenting after divorce. Here are some other tips that may help your children.

  • Be prepared. Have your children ready to go at the designated time. Make sure they have the things they will need for their time with the other parent. Pay special attention to things like homework, band instruments, sports equipment, medication and special or favorite clothing and toys.

  • Be on time. If you are going to be late, always call to let your children and the other parent know. Follow the agreed-upon schedule. Make sure your children are aware of the schedule and know when they will be with each parent.

  • Duplicate frequently-used items so that your children have what they need at each home. This becomes especially important when children move between homes frequently.

  • Tell your children in words and actions that you want them to spend time with the other parent.

  • Learn your child's style. Some children become quiet and moody around transitions. Others may act out. These are usually normal behaviors for children whose parents are divorced. Give your children the understanding and "space" to make transitions in their own unique style.

  • Put your children's needs first. Work to make transitions smooth and routine. Stick to the task at hand - shifting children from one parent's care to the other's.

  • This not the time to conduct co-parenting business. Schedule a separate, child-free time to discuss things with the other parent. Never ask your children to carry things between parents.

  • Create a conflict-free zone. Watch what you say and do. Even be aware of your non-verbal communication. Remember, your children are watching.

  • Use natural transitions in the daily routine. Make use of the school or daycare schedule. For example, one parent drops children off at school and the other picks them up.

The best gift a divorced parent can give his or her children is to protect them from all adult conflict.

When You Can't See the Other Parent Without Conflict.

If you and the other parent have so much conflict that you cannot guarantee that you can keep it away from your children, you may require help with transitions. Here are a few suggestions. Please also see the effects of parental conflict.

  • Choose a safe, neutral location away from your house.

  • Arrange for your children to meet the parent at their vehicle instead of picking them up at the door.

  • Ask an impartial third party to supervise transitions at your house.

  • Make use of supervised visitation programs where a professional monitors the exchange.

  • Learn to manage your anger.

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