One million American children experience their parents’ divorce each year. (Source: US Bureau of the Census). That means one million new children enter into what has become commonplace in our society, “Doing the kid shuffle.” No longer does the shuffle mean getting them to soccer practice on time. Today it means helping them cope with living in two homes with two sets of rules, and often two sets of belongings. Here are ten ways you can help your child cope with this split-family living lifestyle.
1. Don’t talk down about the child’s other parent, no matter how frustrated or angry you become. Talking down about a child’s parent is like talking down about part of your own child.
2. Establish a special routine during transition periods. Perhaps play a game or serve a special meal each time your child returns. Kids thrive on routine and if they know exactly what to expect when they return to you it will make the transition easier.
3. Allow your child to have a transition object. If your child needs a blanket or teddy bear, let them. If the child is older and maybe doesn’t want to carry an item that large, help them make one. Maybe pick out some rocks that represent each parent. Have fun designing them so they know which rock belongs to whom.
4. Call your child every day. You would be surprised at how much hearing your voice and knowing that you are thinking about them means to them, even if they don’t say much in return.
5. Be understanding of their missing things from their other home, including the other parent. All of those things are very real to your child and not having them when they want them can be very frustrating.
6. Work with the other parent to establish a few basic routines that are at both houses. For example, at both houses bedtimes should be very similar. Sitting at the dinner table may be something to be encouraged at both houses. Television viewing or video game playing habits could be similar in both homes.
7. Establish some routine for going back to the other parent’s house. Maybe develop a checklist. Did you remember your bear, your homework, your library book, your gym shoes etc? Make sure you do this each and every time so it becomes habit. Fewer things will be forgotten leading to less frustration and more responsibility.
8. Develop firm procedures and rules about what is acceptable about forgetting things at the other parent’s house. Are you going to ground your child because he forgot his teddy bear? Will you be driving over to your ex’s house to get it at 9:00 at night because your 4 year-old just can’t sleep without it? Are you willing to let your child get a failing grade because your ex doesn’t follow a checklist and make sure your 5th grader had packed her month-long book report assignment? Make procedures and follow through.
9. If it is possible, keep the communications open with your ex. You won’t always agree, but if you are at least communicating you both will always be in the know.
10. If you are able to keep the communication lines open, make sure your kids know this. Have family meetings. Present yourselves as a united front even though you live apart. Back each other up. By doing this you will prevent your kids from trying to play you off each other.