Sisters protect siblings from depression, study shows
Something about having a sister — even a little sister — makes 10- to 14-year-olds a bit less likely to feel down in the dumps according to research by Brigham Young University. Credit: Mark Philbrick/BYU
Something about having a sister - even a little sister - makes 10- to 14-year-olds a bit less likely to feel down in the dumps.
That’s one of several intriguing findings from a new study on the impact siblings have on one another. Brigham Young University professor Laura Padilla-Walker is the lead author on the research, which also sorts out the influence of siblings and the influence of parents within families.
“Even after you account for parents’ influence, siblings do matter in unique ways,” said Padilla-Walker, who teaches in BYU’s School of Family Life. “They give kids something that parents don’t.”
Padilla-Walker’s research stems from BYU’s Flourishing Families Project and will appear in the August issue of the Journal of Family Psychology. The study included 395 families with more than one child, at least one of whom was an adolescent between 10 and 14 years old. The researchers gathered a wealth of information about each family’s dynamic, then followed up one year later. Statistical analyses showed that having a sister protected adolescents from feeling lonely, unloved, guilty, self-conscious and fearful. It didn’t matter whether the sister was younger or older, or how far apart the siblings were agewise.
Brothers mattered, too. The study found that having a loving sibling of either gender promoted good deeds, such as helping a neighbor or watching out for other kids at school. In fact, loving siblings fostered charitable attitudes more than loving parents did. The relationship between sibling affection and good deeds was twice as strong as that between parenting and good deeds.
“For parents of younger kids, the message is to encourage sibling affection,” said Padilla-Walker. “Once they get to adolescence, it’s going to be a big protective factor.”
Many parents justifiably worry about the seemingly endless fighting between siblings. The study found hostility was indeed associated with greater risk of delinquency. Yet Padilla-Walker also sees a silver lining in the data: The fights give children a chance to learn how to make up and to regain control of their emotions, skills that come in handy down the road.
“An absence of affection seems to be a bigger problem than high levels of conflict,” Padilla-Walker said.
Provided by Brigham Young University
How has your sibling helped you buffer the stressors of living? Share with us…
For some time, people have known that using cannabis during adolescence increases the risk of developing cognitive impairment and mental illness (e.g. depression, anxiety or schizophrenia) later in life. Importantly however, the mechanisms responsible for this vulnerability are not well understood. A new study, published in Brain, shows that long-term cannabis use that starts during adolescence damages the neural pathways connecting brain regions, and that this may cause the later development of cognitive and emotional problems.
Ron’s Remarks: I think most parents get the fact that marijuana use is bad for teenagers. Unfortunately, I think some parents might consider it just “experimentation” and don’t take any action for this behavior. Each parent must decide for themselves how to deal with this but this research reiterates the realities of drug use on the brain. How have you dealt with teenager drug use/abuse?
Psychologist and author Joshua Coleman is an internationally recognized expert on parenting and marriage, among other topics. Today we are pleased to present the first installment of his Greater Good blog, in which he explores the roots of conflicts between parents and their adult children.
Stay tuned for Dr. Coleman’s subsequent posts, which will explore strategies for overcoming parent-child conflict.
According to a recent Pew survey, a high percentage of today’s parents report fewer serious arguments with their children in their late teens and early 20s than they had with their own parents at a similar age.
However, not all parents experience this kind of closeness. Some parents complain of ongoing tension and conflict with their adult children or, worse, complain that they are completely estranged from them.
In my work as a psychologist, I’ve witnessed many families experiencing these kinds of conflicts. Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about why these conflicts arise, and how parents can best handle them. (I share many of my observations in my recent book, When Parents Hurt: Compassionate Strategies When You and Your Grown Child Don’t Get Along.)
New grounds for conflict
Part of the problem stems from the fact that parents today invest far more in their children than did prior generations of parents. According to sociologist Scott Coltrane, fathers do three times as much parenting as fathers in the 1960s; sociologists Suzanne Bianchi, John Robinson, and Melissa Milke report that mothers spend far more time parenting than did mothers in the 1960s.© Steve Debenport
Among other reasons, this increased investment by both mothers and fathers comes as a result of parental anxiety about their children’s future, guilt about spending less time with their children than they believe they should, education about children’s developmental needs, and a desire to be a better parent than their own parents were.
We have also radically altered our views about what we expect from children. Surveys in the 1920s showed that parents valued conformity, loyalty, and obedience; they wanted their kids to respect them, if not fear them. Today’s parents value individuality, tolerance, and the ability to think for themselves. They want their children’s love and are worried that they can easily jeopardize that love by not being a good enough parent.
How have these changes affected parents’ relationships with their children as those kids get older and progress through adulthood themselves? On the one hand, better education about children and parent-child communication has increased the potential for positive long-term relationships between parents and children, as the recent Pew survey details. Children, overall, appear to be doing better as judged by test scores and declines in youth crime, teen pregnancies, and suicide.
On the other hand, the onset of clinical depression occurs much earlier than in prior generations of children, and college health centers complain about not being able to handle the volume of students who are struggling with psychological issues.
The environment for parenting has also changed. In comparison to the past, parents have far fewer support systems of kin and neighbors to help them strike the right balance in their child-rearing. With people spending less time with their friends and communities, many parents turn to their offspring for fulfillment, intimacy, and long-term security—and those children are far more likely to be at home with their parents than they were in prior generations: Historian Steven Mintz has observed that between the early 1980s and late 1990s, unstructured play and outdoor activities for children declined nearly 40 percent for children ages three to 11.
While more time with children creates more opportunities for bonding, a more intense relationship increases the potential for conflict, resentment, and disappointment on the part of both parent and child. As sociologist Annette Lareau observes in her book Unequal Childhoods: Class, Race, and Family Life, middle class children are encouraged to develop a perspective of mutuality or equality in their relationships with adults. In a study, she found that these children frequently and comfortably passed judgment on the adults around them.
“In general the children of middle class parents have a sense that they are special, that their opinions matter, and that adults should as a matter of routine adjust situations to meet their children’s wishes,” writes Lareau.
Watch Joshua Coleman discuss parent-child conflict on a recent Today Show episode.
A greater degree of entitlement and comfort with adults can be highly adaptive in a world that requires autonomy, assertiveness, and comfort with authority. And in most cases, these children grow up to be highly respectful of their parents and other adults.
However, this entitlement is problematic when it’s combined with a prevailing cultural notion that children’s outcomes in life depend largely on how their parents raise them. Because while parenting is important, it isn’t the only experience that shapes children. Current studies show that class, genetics, peer group, and sibling relationships are also powerful determinants of how kids turn out. A culture that over-attributes parenting behavior to children’s outcomes may confuse adult children about the formative influences on their life, and may make them more likely to blame their parents when things don’t turn out the way they’d hoped.
Overstating the relationship between parenting behavior and child outcome may also cause politicians to wrongly attribute blame to the family for conditions that are better understood as having an economic basis. As historian Stephanie Coontz observes in her book The Way We Never Were, blaming parents for how children turn out is especially unfair when applied to the poor and working class, since research shows that the social dynamics of poverty and low status give them less influence over their children in relation to peer groups than parents in other classes.
And as sociologist Frank Furstenberg has noted, the financial and emotional costs for American parents are much greater here than in many European countries where the government takes a more active role in health care, education, and job training for young adults.
While parents in the U.S. are expected to provide an even greater investment in childcare, entertainment, protection, college, and after-college care than prior generations of parents here and elsewhere, there are fewer guidelines for what they might expect in return. Parents may feel hurt or betrayed if they do not get the love and gratitude they look forward to and believe that they deserve, and this may cause them to strain the relationship with their children even further by complaining or criticizing about their lack of availability or attentiveness.
Improving parents’ relationships with their adult children
Fortunately, in working with the parents of adult children, I’ve found that there are effective ways for them to overcome these conflicts. While every family is different, I believe that the following principles are the most important.
- Take responsibility for whatever mistakes you have made as a parent. If there’s a kernel of truth in your child’s complaint, speak to the kernel of truth.
- Honor the “separate realities” nature of family life. Just because you made decisions with your child’s best interest in mind, doesn’t mean that they were experienced in the way that you intended. Don’t try to prove them wrong.
- Avoid guilt trips: a) They don’t work and b) When they do, you’ll pay a high price for the resentment you’ll generate in your adult child.
- Try to hear your child out. Don’t be defensive. Ask questions.
- Don’t give up too soon. If there’s been an estrangement, you may need to reach out for a long time before you see an improvement in the relationship.
- In general, avoid giving advice that isn’t asked for.
- If you don’t want to give money or help, say so in a loving way, not as a complaint or criticism.
- Don’t criticize their spouse, their significant other, or their sexuality.
- Don’t tell them how to parent. You had your turn. Let them have theirs.
Each of these recommendations has its challenges. Therefore, my next several posts will go into more detail on them, exploring precisely how parents can strengthen their relationship with their adult children.
Are you estranged from your adult children? How have your tried to bridge the distance and rebuild the relationship? What advice would you give parents who are just attempting this journey?
5 Tips for Understanding Children’s Dreams
Do your children wake up and tell you about the wild dream they just had? Many parents may not realize it but their children’s dreams may have significant meanings. Most adults tell their kids to grow up when they share big dreams they had. But we really want to help our children to pay attention to their dreams. Dreams like flying without an airplane can show they have strong creative abilities.
Nightmares with children might be frightening but there is a good chance that they have a high destiny to fulfill in their life. Why else would something evil be trying to stop them from being big dreamers! After working with children’s dreams for over a decade, I found some simple ways to help children record, remember and understand the dreams they are having.
5 tips to help record and remember children’s dreams
1. Encourage you children to openly talk about their dreams, particularly in the morning when it’s easier to remember them more clearly. Make a habit of asking them what they dreamed at the breakfast table.
2. Keep a dream journal for your child if they’re not able to do so themselves. If they are not yet able to write, have them draw the dream or act it out. They might create a collage or another type of artwork to help them communicate a complicated or highly detailed dream. Then they can display it somewhere as a reminder of that dream.
3. Remember that your children’s dream language is going to be simpler than that of an adult. They may see things in cartoon form or associate cartoon or superhero characters with Angels or even God in their dreams.
4. Pay attention to the tone of the dream. Is it light and colorful or more dark and shadow-like? Oftentimes, darker color dreams reveal hidden fears or things that may be trying to stop them from advancing.
5.Ask your child if he or she knows what the dream meant. Sometimes they actually know the meaning.
Here’s a good example of a four-year-old child’s dream that the parent did not understand. The dream was actually quite prophetic.
I dreamed that me and daddy were driving in his car. There was a big bump and the car boom and daddy was scared but then Jesus came said, “Don’t be scared daddy, it’s going to be all right.”
After asking more questions of Sam’s dad, we found out that he had just lost his job right around the time his son had the dream. Cars can represent our career, job or aspects of our life. Sam dreamed that his father had a car accident but it was symbolic of him losing his job. Seeing Jesus in the dream was reassuring that things would work out and, sure enough, they did. Sam has a prophetic dreaming gift, but most people would have missed the meaning of that dream because of Sam’s lack of language to describe it.
If you are interested in how to understand your children’s dreams and your dreams too you can find out more and take a free online dream training course by visiting www.dreamcrashcourse.com
Mrs. Roosth was tall and gaunt, uncomfortably quiet, with small eyes and angry hands.
I leaned back too far in my chair and landed with a thump on the classroom floor. She wrapped her bony fingers around my arm, yanked me up to my feet and just about threw me into the nearest corner to stand for the rest of the day. A few hours. I was in the first grade.
My stomach hurt. My muscles spasmed in my back. My chest grew tight. I thought I might die. But I didn’t say a word.
That’s my earliest memory of serious anxiety. But not my last. Or worst.
I missed a Homecoming dance in high school because anxiety so debilitated me that I couldn’t stand and walk.
I was so heavily medicated on my wedding day that I slept through the first night of the honeymoon!
I turned down my first offer of a record deal because I fear traveling. And just the worrying about it doubled me over in pain and sent me to bed for the better part of a day.
But since eventually signing that record deal, I’ve traveled to around 100 cities every year for twelve years. As a musician and speaker I’ve stood on stage and done my thing in front of tens of thousands of people. Sometimes all at once. As a spokesperson for Compassion International, I’ve traveled to ten developing countries with questionable airplanes, eaten grub worms and guinea pig, and lunched with posh dignitaries and mobs of slum children.
No more debilitating anxiety. How’d that happen? And how can we as parents stave off the anxiety of our children?
My mother is as close to a perfect parent as there is. But even she made mistakes. Just two.
When I became anxious she made it worse by doing two things:
Telling Me To Stop It
I couldn’t stop being anxious any more than I could stop being a boy. It didn’t feel like a choice. Telling me to stop being anxious made me feel defective, abnormal, like I couldn’t do something everyone else could. Telling me to stop worrying gave me more things to worry about! Does my mom think I’m a weirdo? Will everyone else think I’m a weirdo? What’s wrong with me?
Telling Me What Would Happen If I Didn’t Stop
My mother is a worrier too. And when I worried to the point of dysfunction, she worried out loud. On my wedding day: What if you don’t get better…people are already at the church…we can’t move a wedding…you don’t want that do you? And of course I didn’t want that and I didn’t want my mother to worry either so I tried to reassure her, which is quite the opposite of relaxing.
Photo by Pink Sherbet Photography
Today I have four children and one of them is anxious. Here’s what I do when her anxiety prevents her from fully living:
I don’t push her to play in the piano recital that has her in knots. Making her feel like a lot is riding on her getting over her anxiety will only make it worse.
I ask her what she’s feeling and listen. When she takes a breath I hand her a tissue and listen some more. The feelings are the effect. I want to listen until I hear the cause.
People with chronic debilitating anxiety are often ruminators. They are people whose thoughts get stuck in a groove like a needle on a record, going round and round playing the same anxious thoughts again and again until it’s all they can hear. So it’s important to interrupt my daughter once I think I understand her feelings and what’s causing them. I tell her what I think she’s said to me and ask her if I’m right. If she says I am but then tries to restate it all again – ruminating some more – I cut her off.
Imagine The Worst
This is counterintuitive but I ask her to imagine the worst thing that could happen at the piano recital. I’ll freak out and forget my music and everyone will stare at me and I’ll be embarrassed.
I ask her if there’s anything she could do to prevent this from happening. In the case of the piano recital, does she have to play the music from memory or would the teacher let her have sheet music nearby just in case?
We figure out together what we’ll both do if the worst actually happens. I promise I won’t laugh or be embarrassed or love her any less or think she’s any less talented. Recitals are bad measures of talent. And talent isn’t why I or anyone else in that concert hall loves her.
But what will she do is the worst happens? She may decide that she’ll take the sheet music with her and use it if she forgets the notes. She may come up with a self-depreicating joke she can make to ease the tension and get the audience on her side (I still do this all the time). If she can’t come up with a plan, thenI help out but I really want this to be her idea, because I want her to be able to do this for herself when I’m not around.
When the piano recital ended without disaster we talked about how brave she was, how proud I was of her for facing her fears, and we had dessert. We celebrated the success. For me, successes, even the smallest ones, give me confidence that the worst rarely – if ever – happens.
Parenting myself this way over many years has destroyed anxiety. There are still things I’m afraid of, worried about – especially when bills are due. That’s normal. But I’m no longer disabled, half-living because of severe anxiety.
The next time your child is too afraid to live fully, please don’t push. Instead, help them understand their fears, make a plan and move forward. Who knows what kind of life is waiting on the other side of their anxiety? Help them get there.
Do you struggle with anxiety? What has helped you break free?
SHARE: Do you struggle with anxiety? What has helped you break free?
Kindergarten Readiness Checklist
by Peggy Gisler, Ed.S. and Marge Eberts, Ed.S.
While there’s no perfect formula that determines when children are truly ready for kindergarten, you can use this checklist to see how well your child is doing in acquiring the skills found on most kindergarten checklists.
Young children change so fast — if they can’t do something this week, they may be able to do it a few weeks later.
- Listen to stories without interrupting
- Recognize rhyming sounds
- Pay attention for short periods of time to adult-directed tasks
- Understand actions have both causes and effects
- Show understanding of general times of day
- Cut with scissors
- Trace basic shapes
- Begin to share with others
- Start to follow rules
- Be able to recognize authority
- Manage bathroom needs
- Button shirts, pants, coats, and zip up zippers
- Begin to control oneself
- Separate from parents without being upset
- Speak understandably
- Talk in complete sentences of five to six words
- Look at pictures and then tell stories
- Identify rhyming words
- Identify the beginning sound of some words
- Identify some alphabet letters
- Recognize some common sight words like “stop”
- Sort similar objects by color, size, and shape
- Recognize groups of one, two, three, four, and five objects
- Count to ten
- Bounce a ball
If your child has acquired most of the skills on this checklist and will be at least four years old at the start of the summer before he or she starts kindergarten, he or she is probably ready for kindergarten. What teachers want to see on the first day of school are children who are healthy, mature, capable, and eager to learn.
More on: Kindergarten
Let’s face it, when it comes to difficult jobs, parenting is as hard as it gets. It can be lonely, isolating and frustrating, while filled to the brim with love, laughter and blessings every day. Refresh your parenting skills by implementing these happy family habits right now.
According to clinical psychologist Pamela Dockstader-Ortiz, undistracted communication is a top strategy of happy families.
“We can start by practicing better self-awareness in the moment so that we can be truly present when interacting with our family,” Dockstader-Ortiz says. “This will convey to the other person that you are giving them 100 percent of your attention, that you are genuinely interested, and that they matter!”
She also recommends keeping a family notebook, where each member uses a different color pen, to keep communication lines open during the busiest of schedules.
I treasure the traditions my husband and I have established at home, and Dockstader-Ortiz agrees.
“Traditions are important because they offer a sense of identity, belonging and togetherness…. and are unique in each family.”
She adds that traditions need not be elaborate or complicated — eating a regular family meal counts as a tradition as well. Find small ways, like holiday baking or family walks, to create distinctive traditions for your family to cherish for years to come.
Boundaries define personal limits and promote self-reliance in children.
“One of our goals as parents is to help our children to differentiate, and become autonomous and separate individuals,” says Dockstader-Ortiz. “We can do this by promoting and supporting their individual thoughts and ideas, and likes and dislikes.”
Supporting kids in this way and celebrating their uniqueness fosters kids’ self-esteem.
In our home, learning and demonstrating respectful behavior is a family rule, but like most, it occasionally gets broken. Life comes into play and we lose our focus, but we shouldn’t, because respectful behavior is a cornerstone of happy family interactions.
“Each moment and situation in our day to day life offers opportunity to guide and teach our children life lessons about values, beliefs, as well as right from wrong,” says Dockstader-Ortiz. “We have the ability to model pro-social behavior for our children to learn — leading by example begins at home — and the earlier the better!”
Happy families understand that playtime is integral in family happiness.
“Playtime with our children is so important because there is a time to be a parent and then a time to level the playing ground, so to speak, by relating to our children and nurturing the relationship on a whole different level,” says Dockstader-Ortiz.
She advises keeping family fun free of expectations, criticisms and judgments in order to foster independent thinking, imagination and creativity.
Molly Logan Anderson is a writer, wife and mom of three who lives in the Chicago suburbs. Intent on finding good in every day through her blog and website www.GrabTheGood.com, she hopes to help others do the same. From good family, to good advice, to good causes and good style, Molly is writing about it.
Ron Reflects: I know this is the time when families start getting ready for school again. Is this a time of rejoicing for mom and dad or did the summer go too quickly? Share by clicking the reply button.
Joint custody arrangements, especially after an acrimonious split, can be exhausting and infuriating. It can be extremely difficult to get past the painful history you may have with your ex and overcome any built-up resentment. Making shared decisions, interacting with each another at drop-offs, or just speaking to a person you’d rather forget all about can seem like impossible tasks. But while it’s true that co-parenting isn’t an easy solution, it is the best way to ensure your children’s needs are met and they are able to retain close relationships with both parents.
It may be helpful to start thinking of your relationship with your ex as a completely new one—one that is entirely about the well-being of your children, and not about either of you. Your marriage may be over, but your family is not; doing what is best for your kids is your most important priority. The first step to being a mature, responsible co-parent is to always put your children’s needs ahead of your own.
Co-parenting is the best option for your children
Through your parenting partnership, your kids should recognize that they are more important than the conflict that ended the marriage—and understand that your love for them will prevail despite changing circumstances. Kids whose divorced parents have a cooperative relationship:
- Feel secure. When confident of the love of both parents, kids adjust more quickly and easily to divorce and have better self-esteem.
- Benefit from consistency. Co-parenting fosters similar rules, discipline, and rewards between households, so children know what to expect, and what’s expected of them.
- Better understand problem solving. Children who see their parents continuing to work together are more likely to learn how to effectively and peacefully solve problems themselves.
- Have a healthy example to follow. By cooperating with the other parent, you are establishing a life pattern your children can carry into the future.
Need More Help with Divorce?
Helpguide’s Bring Your Life into Balance mindfulness toolkit can help.
The key to co-parenting is to focus on your children—and your children only. Yes, this can be very difficult. It means that your own emotions—any anger, resentment, or hurt—must take a back seat to the needs of your children. Admittedly, setting aside such strong feelings may be the hardest part of learning to work cooperatively with your ex, but it’s also perhaps the most vital. Co-parenting is not about your feelings, or those of your ex-spouse, but rather about your child’s happiness, stability, and future well-being.
Separating feelings from behavior
It’s okay to be hurt and angry, but your feelings don’t have to dictate your behavior. Instead, let what’s best for your kids—you working cooperatively with the other parent—motivate your actions.
- Get your feelings out somewhere else. Never vent to your child. Friends, therapists, or even a loving pet can all make good listeners when you need to get negative feelings off your chest. Exercise can also be a healthy outlet for letting off steam.
- Stay kid-focused. If you feel angry or resentful, try to remember why you need to act with purpose and grace: your child’s best interests are at stake. If your anger feels overwhelming, looking at a photograph of your child may help you calm down.
- Use your body. Consciously putting your shoulders down, breathing evenly and deeply, and standing erect can keep you distracted from your anger, and can have a relaxing effect.
Children in the middle
You may never completely lose all of your resentment or bitterness about your break up, but what you can do is compartmentalize those feelings and remind yourself that they are your issues, not your child’s. Resolve to keep your issues with your ex away from your children.
- Never use kids as messengers. When you have your child tell the other parent something for you, it puts him or her in the center of your conflict. The goal is to keep your child out of your relationship issues, so call or email your ex yourself.
- Keep your issues to yourself. Never say negative things about your ex to your children, or make them feel like they have to choose. Your child has a right to a relationship with his or her other parent that is free of your influence.
Relieving stress in the moment—no matter who you’re dealing with
It may seem impossible to stay calm when dealing with a difficult ex-spouse who’s hurt you in the past or has a real knack for pushing your buttons. But by practicing quick stress relief techniques, you can learn to stay in control when the pressure builds.
Peaceful, consistent, and purposeful communication with your ex is essential to the success of co-parenting—even though it may seem absolutely impossible. It all begins with your mindset. Think about communication with your ex as having the highest purpose: your child’s well-being. Before contact with your ex, ask yourself how your talk will affect your child, and resolve to conduct yourself with dignity. Make your child the focal point of every discussion you have with your ex-partner.
Communication with your ex is likely to be a tough task. Remember that it isn’t always necessary to meet your ex in person—speaking over the phone or exchanging texts or emails is fine for the majority of conversations. The goal is to establish conflict-free communication, so see which type of contact works best for you. Whether talking via email, phone, or in person, the following methods can help you initiate and maintain effective communication:
- Set a business-like tone. Approach the relationship with your ex as a business partnership where your “business” is your children’s well-being. Speak or write to your ex as you would a colleague—with cordiality, respect, and neutrality. Relax and talk slowly.
- Make requests. Instead of making statements, which can be misinterpreted as demands, try framing as much as you can as requests. Requests can begin “Would you be willing to…?” or “Can we try…?”
- Listen. Communicating with maturity starts with listening. Even if you end up disagreeing with the other parent, you should at least be able to convey to your ex that you’ve understood his or her point of view. And listening does not signify approval, so you won’t lose anything by allowing your ex to voice his or her opinions.
- Show restraint. Keep in mind that communicating with one another is going to be necessary for the length of your children’s entire childhood—if not longer. You can train yourself to not overreact to your ex, and over time you can become numb to the buttons he or she tries to push.
- Commit to meeting/talking consistently. Frequent communication with your ex will convey the message to your children that you and their other parent are a united front. This may be extremely difficult in the early stages of your divorce or separation.
- Keep conversations kid-focused. You can control the content of your communication. Never let a discussion with your ex-partner digress into a conversation about your needs or his/her needs; it should always be about your child’s needs only.
Improving the relationship with your ex
If you are truly ready to rebuild trust after a separation or divorce, be sincere about your efforts. Remember your children’s best interests as you move forward to improve your relationship.
- Ask his or her opinion. This fairly simple technique can effectively jump-start positive communications between you and your ex. Take an issue that you don’t feel strongly about, and ask for your ex’s input, showing that you value his or her input.
- Apologize. When you’re sorry about something, take the time to apologize sincerely—even if the incident happened a long time ago. Apologizing can be very powerful in moving your relationship away from being adversaries.
- Chill out. If a special outing with your ex is going to cut into your time with your child by an hour, graciously let it be. Remember that it’s all about what is best for your child; plus, when you show flexibility, your ex is more likely to be flexible with you.
Parenting is full of decisions you’ll have to make with your ex, whether you like each another or not. Cooperating and communicating without blow-ups or bickering makes decision-making far easier on everybody. If you shoot for consistency, geniality, and teamwork with your ex, the details of child-rearing decisions tend to fall into place.
Aim for consistency
It’s healthy for children to be exposed to different perspectives and to learn to be flexible, but they also need to know they’re living under the same basic set of expectations at each home. Aiming for consistency between your home and your ex’s avoids confusion for your children.
- Rules. Rules don’t have to be exactly the same between two households, but if you and your ex-spouse establish generally consistent guidelines, your kids won’t have to bounce back and forth between two radically different disciplinary environments. Important lifestyle rules like homework issues, curfews, and off-limit activities should be followed in both households.
- Discipline. Try to follow similar systems of consequences for broken rules, even if the infraction didn’t happen under your roof. So, if your kids have lost TV privileges while at your ex’s house, follow through with the restriction. The same can be done for rewarding good behavior.
- Schedule. Where you can, aim for some consistency in your children’s schedules. Making meals, homework, and bedtimes similar can go a long way toward your child’s adjustment to having two homes.
Major decisions need to be made by both you and your ex. Being open, honest, and straightforward about important issues is crucial to both your relationship with your ex and your children’s well-being.
- Medical needs. Effective co-parenting can help parents focus on the best medical care for the child, and can help reduce anxiety for everyone. Whether you decide to designate one parent to communicate primarily with health care professionals or attend medical appointments together, keep one another in the loop.
- Education. School plays a major role in maintaining a stable environment for your kids, so be sure to let them know about changes in your child’s living situation. Speak with your ex ahead of time about class schedules, extra-curricular activities, and parent-teacher conferences, and be polite to him or her at school or sports events.
- Financial issues. The cost of maintaining two separate households can strain your attempts to be effective co-parents. Set a realistic budget and keep accurate records for shared expenses. Be gracious if your ex provides opportunities for your children that you cannot provide.
As you co-parent, you and your ex are bound to disagree over certain issues. Keep the following in mind as you try to come to consensus with your ex.
- Respect can go a long way. Simple manners are often neglected between co-parents, even though they should be the foundation for co-parenting. Being considerate and respectful includes letting your ex know about school events, being flexible about your schedule when possible, and taking his or her opinion seriously.
- Keep talking. It might sound tedious, but if you disagree about something important, you will need to continue to communicate about the topic. Never discuss your differences of opinions with or in front of your child. If you still can’t agree, you may need to talk to a third party, like a therapist or mediator.
- Don’t sweat the small stuff. If you disagree about important issues like a medical surgery or choice of school for your child, by all means keep the discussion going. But if you want your child in bed by 7:30 and your ex says 8:00, try to let it go and save your energy for the bigger issues.
- Compromise. Yes, you will need to come around to your ex spouse’s point of view as often as he or she comes around to yours. It may not always be your first choice, but compromise allows you both to “win” and makes both of you more likely to be flexible in the future.
The actual move from one household to another, whether it happens every few days or just on weekends, can be a very hard time for children. Transitions represent a major change in your children’s reality. Every reunion with one parent is also a separation with the other; each “hello” is also a “goodbye.” In joint custody arrangements, transition time is inevitable, but there are many things you can do to help make exchanges and transitions easier, both when your children leave and return.
When your child leaves
As kids prepare to leave your house for your ex’s, try to stay positive and deliver them on time. You can use the following strategies to help make transitions easier:
- Help children anticipate change. Remind kids they’ll be leaving for the other parent’s house a day or two before the visit.
- Pack in advance. Depending on their age, help children pack their bags well before they leave so that they don’t forget anything they’ll miss. Encourage packing familiar reminders like a special stuffed toy or photograph.
Always drop off—never pick up the child on “switch day.” It’s a good idea to avoid “taking” your child from the other parent so that you don’t risk interrupting or curtailing a special moment. Drop off your child at the other parent’s house instead.
When your child returns
The beginning of your children’s return to your home can be awkward or even rocky. You can try the following to help your child adjust:
- Keep things low-key. When children first enter your home, try to have some down time together—read a book or do some other quiet activity.
- Double up. To make packing simpler and make kids feel more comfortable when they are at the other parent’s house, have kids keep certain basics—toothbrush, hairbrush, pajamas—at both houses.
- Allow the child space. Children often need a little time to adjust to the transition. If they seem to need some space, do something else nearby. In time, things will get back to normal.
- Establish a special routine. Play a game or serve the same special meal each time your child returns. Kids thrive on routine—if they know exactly what to expect when they return to you it can help the transition.
Dealing with visitation refusal
Sometimes kids refuse to leave one parent to be with the other. Although this can be a difficult situation, it is also common for children in joint custody.
- Find the cause. The problem may be one that is easy to resolve, like paying more attention to your child, making a change in discipline style, or having more toys or other entertainment. Or it may be that an emotional reason is at hand, such as conflict or misunderstanding. Talk to your child about his or her refusal.
- Go with the flow. Whether you have detected the reason for the refusal or not, try to give your child the space and time that he or she obviously needs. It may have nothing to do with you at all. And take heart: most cases of visitation refusal are temporary.
- Talk to your ex. A heart-to-heart with your ex about the refusal may be challenging and emotional, but can help you figure out what the problem is. Try to be sensitive and understanding to your ex as you discuss this touchy subject.