Divorce can be (and usually is) such a difficult process for adults, but I have seen so many children suffer as well. I’m not saying it’s easy, but if parents can put aside their own hurt, there are some things they can do to make the process a bit easier for their children. Here are 7 tips (RULES) for co-parenting:
- Keep your child’s best interest in mind at all times. Imagine you’re in your child’s shoes and think about how your actions are going to impact them. Sometimes you won’t have a choice, but sometimes you will. When you do, choose what will be the least hurtful to your children.
- Don’t argue in front of your child. I’ve had a lot of children in my office worried and upset because their parents fight. Sometimes they even think that it’s their fault. Please do your best not to argue in front of them. If an argument starts, cut it off and continue the conversation when your child isn’t around.
- Do not make your child a “middle man” for scheduling/arranging. All arrangements for plans and visits should be made between the two adults. Do not put that pressure on your child(ren).
- Don’t force your child to choose one parent over the other. Don’t ask questions like, “wouldn’t you rather be with me this weekend?” or “don’t you wish you could stay with me longer?” It’s not fair to your child and it will only lead to hurt feelings.
- Do not talk negatively about your co-parent in front of your child. I know this one will be hard, but do your best. Even if you no longer love the other parent, your child (probably) still does, so don’t bash them when your child is around. Save that for your friends (or therapist!).
- Do not make your child be a “spy” to get information about your co-parent. Don’t interrogate your child about their other parent’s new significant (or anything else). This is not fair to your child.
- Make a plan and try to be consistent. Children typically do best when they’ve got a consistent routine. It’s inevitable that something will come up, but try your best to be consistent as far as visits. This can dramatically help with your child’s ability to adjust to going back and forth between two parents/homes.
A printable version of this document can be found Coparenting Rules.
I recently was asked if it’s “Ok” to let a child earn back electronic time that was taken away as a negative consequence due to behavior. My opinion on the subject is that it’s appropriate, but only sometimes (like, once in a blue moon!). Here’s my stipulations:
- Don’t get into a habit of letting them “earn back” a privilege.
You took that privilege away for a reason! Regularly letting a child earn back a privilege will make that consequence seem less severe for them. Why be upset about losing a privilege if you know you’re probably going to earn it back? This then decreases motivation to choose positive and pro-social behaviors. It all comes down to follow through. Let’s look at an example for adults: If my boss tells me that I have to stay late every time I hand in a report late, but almost every time he lets me leave early anyways…? Guess what, I’m not going to be all that motivated to hand in my report on time… because I’ve learned that there’s no follow through on the consequence.
- Don’t undo the entire consequence.
When using negative consequences, the best (fastest) way to decrease negative behavior is to use a negative consequence every single time it happens. So if a parent does decide to let a child “earn back” something, don’t let them earn ALL of it back. For example, if your child lost 15 minutes of electronic time, give them maybe 10 or 5 back. Or it they lost ALL electronic privileges (computer, phone, Xbox, etc.), pick ONE device that they can use.
- IF you are going to let them earn back a privilege, make sure they’ve gone above and beyond to earn it.
Your child should do something EXTRA special and out of the ordinary in order to earn that privilege back. Maybe your kiddo didn’t do their chores and lost TV time for the day, but later did their normal chores AND extra chores to. Maybe your child hit their sibling and lost phone and computer privileges, but apologized (without being prompted) to their sibling and helped them with a task.
One last hint: if your child comes to expect to earn their privileges back (i.e., by asking “so do I get my time back since I apologized to my sister?”), then you’re likely letting them earn back privileges too often. Also… the answer to that question should be “no.” Don’t give in if your kiddo asks for their negative consequence to be undone!
When I start seeing a new kiddo for therapy, I like to give them an easy assignment to do before their second session. I usually have kiddos with emotional concerns do a worksheet pertaining to feelings (see Inside Out Emotions Ice Breaker), but for kiddos with more behavioral concerns I usually start with a “favorites” worksheet.
Having kids write down their favorites (and least favorites) is a great “ice breaker” tool for me to get to know them and start building rapport in that second session. As a bonus, it’s also a great tool for me to use to recommend rewards (from the kiddo’s list of favorites) and negative consequences (from their list of least favorites) to the child’s parents for behavior contracts.
I created a super simple worksheet that I hand out to kiddos when they’re getting ready to leave that first session. It looks like this:
You can find a printable version here.
When I see a kiddo for their first therapy session, I usually give them an easy, getting-to-know-you assignment to complete before their second session. For kiddos who are dealing more with emotional issues than behavioral, I like to have them make a list of 5 things that make them feel happy, 5 things that make them feel sad, 5 things that make them feel worried, and 5 things that make them feel mad.
This list is a great way to “break the ice” and going over it is beneficial for building rapport. It also helps give me an idea of their knowledge and awareness of emotions. Additionally, it’s easy to fit in questions about how they cope with the situations, which also gives me an idea of how they are at coping with emotions.
To make the assignment more fun, I created an easy worksheet with the Inside Out characters for kids to take and fill out. Some kids are turned off when they hear the words “assignment” or “homework,” but show them a piece of paper with an Inside Out character on it, and it doesn’t seem so bad. 🙂
Here’s what the worksheet looks like:
Printable version here.