As adults, we deal with transitions all day long even on holiday season. We wake up with little kids climbing on us, demanding breakfast and we quickly transition from dead asleep to happily making breakfast and packing backpacks. We drop kids off at school, drive to work or home, and make the transition from parent to worker or parent to housekeeper. We spend our whole day practicing making transitions from one task to another, one client to another, one role to another. And then school gets out and we start all over again. We’ve had years to perfect the art of transitioning with poise and grace. And we still fall apart over it every now and then. When it comes to our kids though, we often expect them to be able to transition just as easily as we do… even though we’ve had decades more experience at it than they have. For the most part, most kids are able to make tons of transitions every day.
When parents get divorced, things change quickly and dramatically, especially for the kids. When parents get divorced, it’s an emotional time for everyone involved, especially for the kids. When parents get divorced, it adds so many more transitions for kids… and these transitions are harder for kids to process and handle with poise and grace. Knowing this, here are a few things you can do to help kids handle holiday transitions better:
Create a schedule and stick to it. It’s no secret that kids function better with routines and schedules specially on holiday. If you’re sharing custody with your ex, try to come up with a set schedule for time spent at each household. And stick to it. Don’t expect your kids to be flexible with this schedule. As they get older and time passes, they will learn to be flexible when things come up, but in the beginning, you should stick to the schedule strictly.
Set routines. Kids make transitions easier when they know what to expect. If you have clear routines in place, there will be no guessing as to what is supposed to happen. If the kids know that on Mondays and Tuesdays, Mom picks them up from school, after they settle into the routine, the transition from school to home with Mom will become easier.
Communicate with the kids. For all the scheduling and routine creating you’ve done, you’ve also got to communicate with your kids. The truth is kids are kids and they often have no idea what day of the week it is or whose house they’re supposed to go to this weekend. You can create a color-coded calendar or write them a note on the dry erase board on the fridge. Or you can even just talk to them about their day every day. “Have a great day at school today guys! It’s Wednesday today, so Dad is picking you up from school and you have soccer practice at 6 pm. I’ll see you at bedtime.” We already spend a ton of time reminding our kids about these kinds of things… so adding in whose day it is and what to expect should be an easy transition for you.
Recognize the rough transitions and work to fix them. As your kids settle into the new schedules and routines that accompany shared custody, you’ll notice them successfully navigating most of the transitions. And then you’ll notice that for each kid, there are likely certain instances where they fall apart every time. Study your kids closely and try to pinpoint these failed transitions. The ones that are really important are the ones that happen repeatedly. Maybe your youngest has a meltdown every time you pick her up on Sundays after a weekend at your ex’s house. See if you and your ex can meet in a neutral location like a playground, so you can make the transition easier on her. He brings her to the park and stays for 10 minutes after you arrive. Then he leaves and you stay at the park with her for another 10 minutes. Keep in mind that to really resolve these tough transitions, it’s going to take effort on the part of both parents.