- Children should feel that they have a home with both parents, regardless of the amount of time they spend with them
- Expect resistance from children as they adjust
- Avoid using children as messengers or go-betweens
- Try not to criticise, find fault, or compare the two homes.
Wherever possible and safe, children need to have access to both parents. If your child says they don’t want to see you, don’t dismiss their feelings or reject them. Listen to what they say, try to find out if there is a reason and keep from blaming your child for the rejection.
Sometimes children see one parent as all good and one parent as all bad, if this happens, remind them of the good times you had together before the separation. Children think of themselves as half-mum, half-dad and if they aren’t allowed to love both parents they can end up rejecting a part of themselves. So try not to criticise or blame each other in front of your child but remind them that there is “good” and “bad” in all of us.
Children are resilient and can live with different family rules if they know what to expect. If your child says things like “mum does this differently” or that “dad doesn’t do things like that” remind them that it is a parent’s job to set limits and that although you do things differently, you both love them and that it is OK to have different rules in different homes.
Avoid questioning your child about what happens in the other household – it can feel like an interrogation. Whenever possible communicate directly with your child’s other parent.
Try not to get into a competition with the other parent about who gives the bigger birthday present, or gives gifts with strings attached. When giving large gifts, think about which household it will stay in, and if it is to stay at your home, it’s best to let the child know in advance.
Giving children information about what is happening and what to expect will make them feel more secure; for example you could put key dates on a calendar together. However, not everything in life is predictable and changes might need to take place. Always think about what is in the best interests of your child and keep them informed of any changes.
Further tips for contact
- Develop a mutually respectful relationship with the other parent which is centred around the best interests of your child
- Wherever possible be flexible and willing to compromise
- Don’t discuss things that might lead to an argument in front of your child
- Use safeguards if you are concerned about conflict during the handover
- Remember that the parent with whom your child lives is likely to experience different feelings to the other parent.
Keep conversations focused on what’s best for your child; communicate in a mutually respectful manner about the needs of your child – things like medical appointments, parents’ evenings, sports days and birthday parties.
If your child says things about what their parent has said or done that arouses strong feelings in you – don’t over-react or retaliate, because this puts your child in the middle.
However, if you have strong concerns about the level of conflict that might occur when you handover your child, there are certain things that you can do like having another adult present, handing over in a public place and in daylight, having a friend or family member handover for you, or using a contact centre.
Although everyone is different, if you are the parent with whom the child lives, you might feel that you are the one that has all the responsibility and no time to yourself, whereas if you are the other parent, you might long for the feeling of being a family and feel lost, not knowing how to fill your time.
Even if you are in a one-bedroom flat, it’s important to find a space for your child’s belongings, even if it is only a corner in a room. This will help them feel that they are still an important part of your life and help them to feel more secure. Don’t treat your child like a guest in your home – create new family activities and rituals that help them to feel more secure.