I know what your pain point is. You want to be sure that your kids are going to survive your high conflict divorce. You want to know they will be ok. And they will…if you are. More about that here. Here are 5 parenting tricks to help the kids transition from your ex’s residence back to your place.
1. Detox time
When your kids get back from your ex’s place, give them time and space to do exactly what they want. Their brains may be busy processing the experience. Don’t make any plans and try to drop any agenda you may have had for them. Let them go to their rooms and play a video game. Be present, but not in their face. In other words, be in another room and let them come to you. Just hold space for them to come home and relax.
2. Speak declaratively
Many of you know that I have experience parenting a child on the Autism Spectrum. My boy did not speak for many years. One of the ways that I was taught to encourage language was to speak declaratively at least 80% of the time. That means, stop asking questions. Speak in sentences that end in a period not a question mark. Let me give you an example. Instead of asking Do you think Trump will ever leave the White House? you say I am not sure that Trump will willingly leave the White House and just pause. This invites conversation without pressure.
Turns out, this is an excellent skillset if you want to encourage language in all children, especially teenagers. It is very natural to speak to children in a string of questions. Avoid the temptation to ask your child about their experience at their other parent’s home. Instead tell them something about yourself, and what you did in their absence. You will generate much more conversation by speaking declaratively, after your child has had some detox time.
If you really want specific information, you can wonder aloud. I wonder if Daddy had any friends sleep over... When my son was young, I used to wonder if he ate the lunch I sent to school. I would say: I had a tuna sandwich for lunch and really liked it. Long pause. I wonder if you ate your sandwich today…
3. Validate without fixing
When your children share their experience with you, they may be upset, angry or confused. Guess what? You don’t have to fix it. They can ride the wave of emotions and become really good at it.
What matters is that they have a venue to talk about it and feel heard. Ask questions and be interested. Be that soft place to fall. Troubleshoot and find solutions for the next time. This may be an ideal opportunity to teach your kids to have boundaries with your ex.
By validating their feelings without trying to change them, you show that you are confident that they can experience even uncomfortable emotions. This will create emotional resilience for your kids.
4. Stock your fridge
Kids are far less ornery when they have a full stomach. Having a well stocked fridge with all of their favourite items will help kids transition. It sends the message that they are at the top of your mind, even when they are not home. This is especially important if your relationship with your child is going through a difficult period or if you are being targeted by an alienating ex.
5. Provide a Visual calendar
It is a lot to expect our kids to adapt to living in two houses. Often they feel anxiety about their circumstances. I like to minimize anxiety in every possible way by providing certainty. A nice large calendar or white board in the kitchen does exactly that. You can colour code it so the kids can easily identify where they are sleeping each night. A very smart lawyer once told me the best thing to help kids transition is a 1 month visual calendar of the parenting schedule.