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Saturday, April 30, 2016

Action Before Conversation - A Parenting ABC

For the sake of our children, we could all stand to talk less and act more when it comes to correcting negative behavior. In general, act first and talk later. Parents spend far too much time explaining and reasoning with their offspring, rather than taking action. Try "get off the top of the refrigerator NOW" instead of "how many times have I told you that it is not safe?" Or a simple "pick it up" rather than a lecture entitled "I love a clean San Diego!"

Who's job is it anyway? Have you ever noticed that as parents' energy investment in a given task or situation gets larger, the child's gets smaller? If you're working harder at getting your child's chores done than she or he is, try a little exercise. Bite your tongue! Stop repeating yourself. Communicate your message as succinctly and firmly as possible, then bite your tongue and silently count to twenty. If the child hasn't moved, gently assist him or her physically in the direction of the desired behavior. Then repeat your brief message a second time using the same words, voice tone and volume. Bite your tongue again, and count to twenty. If the child still isn't cooperating, move to action.

Time-out is a great intervention for many children. The child loses something they want - contact with other people and ordinary activities, while gaining something else -self-control. There are some helpful rules of thumb for time-out:
  1. Length should be one minute for each year of a child's age
  2. When the time is up, the child should be given an opportunity to come out of time-out and practice self-control
  3. If the child achieves self control before the time-out is up, let him/her out early. They have risen to the challenge and it should be immediately acknowledged.
  4. Time-out should not be more fun than the problem behavior that earned it!
Withdrawal of privileges can also inspire a young person to be a good cooperator. But make sure you impose a loss that makes the child suffer more than the parent! Grounding a teen-ager for the rest of his or her life might prove too much to handle for mom or dad. Also, withdraw the privilege calmly and firmly – NO DRAMA!

ABC is especially important during times of transition. Some transitions are natural and expected, like the birth of a new child. Others are unexpected and create a crisis, like divorce. If you are in transition, stop and think before you make decisions about parenting. You may inadvertently burden a child with adult concerns. Or you may withhold appropriate discipline because of guilt or fear. So talk problems over with a trusted adult before talking to your child.

Listening is one of the most important skills of a good parent and it’s important to talk with your child after self-control is regained. Ask the child to tell you their understanding of what was negative about his behavior. Support all attempts at honest communication, and keep it brief. Take your cues from the child for the end of the conversation. Then take action again - a hug would probably be just right.

Thursday, April 28, 2016

Loyalty Conflict in 2-Home Children: Co-Parenting for Better or Worse

Coparents often pride themselves on the fact that they never say anything negative about the other parent. They reassure themselves and others that they would never put their child in a position where the child has to choose between Mom or Dad.

Yet some coparents engage in very destructive behaviors with their children without a second thought when anger, fear, and a desire for revenge take over.

1 Mom gives a gift to the child. Dad throws the gift away.

2 Dad sends child home in new clothes. Mom throws the clothes away.

3 Mom tells Dad that the child can’t have sugar. Dad sends the child home with a bag of candy.

4 Dad tells Mom that he has a family reunion on her weekend and asks to exchange weekends. Mom plans a trip to Disneyland for that weekend.

5 Mom tells Dad the child has a birthday party for a school friend on Dad’s weekend and asks Dad to take the child. Dad tells Mom that she can’t plan things on his time so he isn’t taking the child.

6 Dad gives the child new clothes for Christmas. When child dresses for school and puts on the new clothes, Dad tells the child he can’t wear the clothes because Mom is picking the child up from school.

7 Mom plans a birthday for the child. The child invites his Dad and his Dad’s family. Mom tells the child the party is only for Mom and her family with the child.

8 Dad tells Mom the child has been diagnosed with an Autism Spectrum Disorder and Dad says that the child is fine, there is nothing wrong with the child.

9 Mom gives the child diagnosed with ADHD his/her prescribed medication as required. Dad refuses to give the medication.

The ways in which parents put children in loyalty conflict are divisive and disheartening. If you know a parent who does these things, or if you are one of those parents, challenge the status quo. The child suffers when the parent uses the child to work through adult conflicts and problems.

No coparent can control what the other coparent does. Each one of us can only control our own choices when our child is with us. Respond don’t react. Protect your child from the adult conflict. Teach, nurture, and listen to your child. Get support and help for yourself.

If you are hurting your child by engaging in any of these types of behaviors, admit the harm you are doing to your child rather than justifying your anger at the other parent. Do it for your child and do it for yourself.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

Loyalty Conflict in 2-Home Children

Special outings can be a source of tension, stress, and pressure for children when Mom and Dad don’t get along. This is an example of an avoidable loyalty conflict for the child if the parents have basic coparenting communication.  Simple coparenting agreements include these kinds of activities. Mom and Dad agree to alternate or they agree that Mom will always do a certain activity each year and Dad will do another.

Unfortunately, when coparenting relationships are high conflict, special outings like LegoLand or Disneyland can easily turn into competitive events for coparents who are insecure in their role as a parent and who want to “win” in a self-centered game against the other parent.

Some common examples include:
1  Disney Ice Show
2  New Movie Release – G Rated or 2nd or 3rd in a series
3  Del Mar Fair
4  Monster Trucks
5  Comic-Con

Children suffer when coparents are so estranged from one another that they are unable to agree on basic information exchange for the purpose of protecting a child from loyalty conflicts. When coparents have gone weeks, months, or even years with no face-to-face contact the potential for set-backs and new allegations is high. Transition points in a family working toward a successful restructure are vulnerable times for each family member.

Family Court typically doesn’t provide transition plans for parents that are sensitive to these delicate transition times. Transition plans should include a gradual change from supervised visits to book-end visits to supervised exchanges to face-to-face exchanges with a neutral person present. This kind of transition process is necessary to support all family members in making the changes towards a healthy new structure but the law does not require this kind of support.

As the gradual change plan moves forward, conjoint coparenting counseling for the sole purpose of making basic agreements about information exchange and about special event procedures can make all the difference for every family member. These agreements remove uncertainty and stress on the family system, and establish new norms for 2-home family functioning that are critical for success.

Family Courts could provide transition plans appropriate to each family system, but it is a very rare occurrence in an adversarial judicial system struggling with understaffing, full calendars, and inadequate budgets.

If you want to create a new family structure which supports your children in moving between homes successfully, then find a way to sit down with your coparent and make some basic agreements. Most coparents find it difficult or impossible to stay calm without a neutral person to keep the agenda on track. 

Facilitated Coparenting Meetings at Transitions Family Program at Hannah’s House are an excellent way to approach this task. Most coparents meet for 1-3 meetings to make the basic agreements, and then do periodic scheduled meetings to follow up and refine.

Loyalty conflicts weigh on children. Loyalty conflicts diminish the joy and spontaneity of childhood. Protect your child from this avoidable stress and your new family structure will flourish.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Loyalty Conflict in Children

Loyalty conflicts are complicated.

Resolving loyalty conflicts is a process.

That process often starts with reparenting ourselves as we parent our children.

How do I that? How do I reparent myself to fill in those broken places while I try to raise another human being?

The first step in any process of human change is recognition of our own contributions to the status quo. This requires a spirit of inquiry about self because we are only able to be as honest with another person as we are able to be honest with ourselves.

If I am unhappy with the life partner I chose, I need to accept responsibility for that choice. I need to explore my needs and desires that led me to make a choice for myself that has proven to be a poor one.

I need to take responsibility and stop blaming my partner for the choices I made. I need to make better choices. I need to take some risks to change my own behavior in order to build a better life for myself and my children.

“I” statements have power. That is why most approaches to the change process include them. Try it. Keep the focus on self. Keep the focus on personal choices and personal responsibility.

I chose.

I decided.

I agreed.

I acted.

Parents teach us about choices, consequences, personal responsibility, honesty, and integrity. If our parents blamed others for their own shortcomings and disappointments then we are likely to that, too.

How can we teach our children about being a decent human being if we are blaming other people for the choices we have made? Becoming a better parent may mean having a different relationship, a different understanding, of how we were raised.

Does that feel disloyal? Do you feel a loyalty conflict? Do you believe that it’s wrong to admit that your Mom or your Dad made choices that hurt you or left you alone too much or blamed you too much or criticized you too much or made you grow up too fast?

Life happens to all of us. Life happened to our parents. Exploring the impact of the choices our parents made is not disloyal. Recognizing the impact of the life challenges thrown at our parents is not disloyal. Being honest about how we felt as children when our parents made the very best choices possible as they faced difficult situations, is not disloyal.

Children shouldn’t have to choose one parent over the other. But many adults say that they felt closer to one parent than they felt to the other, or that one parent had more positive influence than the other. Our feelings towards our parents are not a matter of loyalty or disloyalty. They can be a source of tremendous understanding, compassion, and empathy for our parents and for ourselves when we were children.

Becoming a better parent means acknowledging the ways we need to take care of ourselves to make sure that we don’t unconsciously use our children to meet our own needs.

This process is complicated under the best of circumstances. When our own family has broken apart, it can seem impossible. But our children can’t wait to be adequately parented until we grow up. We need to find a way to take care of our children and take care of self. Find a therapist or counselor or life coach who can help. Find a support group of like-minded parents who can help.

You are worth it and so are your children.

Monday, April 25, 2016

Loyalty Conflict in Children

Children shouldn’t have to choose one parent over the other.

Most parents would immediately agree with that sentiment. Oh, absolutely! I would never….

But children don’t feel the pressure and stress of loyalty conflict because a parent overtly and directly asks them to choose or asks them to agree with negative statements about Mom or Dad.

Children feel loyalty conflicts because they know when Mom or Dad is angry or rejecting of the other parent and it feels scary.

Children know when Mom or Dad needs the child to reassure the parent that the adult is important, special, and the better parent.

Children learn to choose one parent over the other because children can sense what parents need to hear and see in order for the parent to feel good about him or herself.
If Mom or Dad feels good, like a good parent, then life feels good for the child.

Loyalty conflicts in children, and the adult manipulation of children’s emotional vulnerabilities, happen in all kinds of families because some parents exploit children to compensate for adult challenges. Some parents emotionally manipulate children only when under great stress and some parents do it because that is the way they learned to get their needs met in intimate family relationships.

Loyalty conflicts emerge because parents have unmet needs and unmet or incomplete developmental tasks from the way they were parented as children. These deficits, or undeveloped aspects, become more intense when children are brought into the life of a couple.

We refer to a family living together under the same roof as “intact,” meaning unbroken. We refer to families who have separated from one another to live in two homes as “broken,” meaning damaged.

This simplistic way of categorizing families is convenient, but misleading. It completely misses the fact that we all have unmet needs and incomplete developmental tasks from our childhood.  How could we not? Life is hard. Unpredictable. Unfair. Good things happen to bad people. Bad things happen to good people. Parents do the best they can every single day with what they have to work with and with what life throws at them.

In other words, we are all “broken” in some way. We all have things to learn about being a better person, a more capable mother or father, a more positive human being. Hopefully, we will keep becoming more truly and completely who we are capable of being every single day of our lives.

Loyalty conflicts are complicated and there is not one solution. There is no magic word or sentence that you either say or don’t say.

Resolving loyalty conflicts is a process. That process often starts with reparenting ourselves as we parent our children. The process certainly requires a spirit of inquiry about self. In the next few days, we will continue to explore the issue of loyalty conflict. For our children, and for ourselves. 

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Does Your Child Have A Secure Base?

The foundation for the secure base is a secure attachment of a child to a parent/primary caregiver. It's like home base when you are playing tag, or the side of the pool when you jump in the deep end. That base is a place to rest and feel safe. Of course the child needs to leave home base or the side to play and explore but can safely return. That is the function of the secure person.
Some children are lucky enough to have secure attachments to both parents who have shared parenting since infancy. You can see that sense of security when a child first begins to be able to move on his or her own. The child is sitting with a parent, crawls away, and looks back for reassurance. Mom/Dad smiles and claps and encourages. The child continues to explore and play.
Sometimes the young child will come back to Mom/Dad for a hug or a touch and then off again to explore the world. School age children may not touch base as often but want to know that Mom/Dad is there when they need them!
A child with an insecure base has a hard time leaving Mom/Dad. The insecurity is an outgrowth of parenting, not innate within the child in most case. Mom/Dad is either anxious or distracted for too much of their parenting time with the child. Parents who are anxious and insecure tend to create children who are anxious and insecure. Parents who are distracted and preoccupied with adult concerns tend to create children who are insecure because they don't get adequate nurturing and feedback and reassurance.
When families break apart parents often become anxious, insecure, distracted, and preoccupied. Children can handle this stress for a while, but there is a limit!! Get support when you are going through a life change that is challenging. If your normal coping skills and support system aren't working then reach out and find more!
Your child needs a secure base in Mom's House and in Dad's House as quickly as possible after the families breaks apart.. The best way to accomplish that is cooperative and shared parenting for coparents who can be respectful to one another; or parallel parenting with little coparenting contact when the adults are not able to be respectful.
Transitions Family Program at Hannah's House offers FREE support groups for Moms and Dads every week - Wednesday 530 for Dads and Friday 530 for Moms. The groups are open to any coparent in San Diego county who is family-court involved, or coparenting children between 2 separate homes.
Good-enough parenting is what is required to ensure a secure base for your child. Just good-enough. Not exceptional, and certainly not perfect. If you need some support to get back to good-enough, email today.

What Are the Factors in Determining Best Interest of the Child?

An assessment of the following factors may be helpful to you in determining the best interest of the child.

The age of the child.

The relationship of the child's parents and any other persons who may significantly affect the child's welfare.

The preference of the child, if old enough to express a meaningful preference;

The duration and adequacy of the child's current living arrangements and the desirability of maintaining continuity;

The stability of any proposed living arrangements for the child;

The motivation of the parties involved and their capacities to give the child love, affection and guidance.

The child's adjustment to the child's present home, school and community.

The capacity of each parent to allow and encourage frequent and continuing contact between the child and the other parent, including physical stress.

The capacity of each parent to cooperate in childcare.

Methods for assisting parental cooperation and resolving disputes and each parent's willingness to use these methods;

The effect on the child if one parent has sole authority over the child's upbringing;

History of Domestic Violence

All other factors having reasonable bearing on the physical and psychological well-being of the child.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Protecting Children During a Family Breakup: Avoid Loyalty Conflict

The breakup of a family is difficult for everyone. For some, it is a shattering experience that comes as a shock with no warning.
For the person who is more "ready" to leave, it is still painful. For the person who is caught unaware and unprepared, it is devastating. When children are involved, this difference in the adult experience absolutely must be acknowledged and managed by the parents. It is the only way to protect the children from loyalty conflict, from feeling like they have to choose, from feeling like they have to decide that one parent is the "good" parent and the other is the "bad" parent.
While this should be obvious, it often is not. In the midst of tumultuous change, emotional upheaval, and shattered dreams we go into survival mode. Parents shut down all but the most essential functions which tend to relate to very basic self-care, work, finances, and transportation.
The children are left to deal with being caught in the middle between parents who are blaming each other. One parent is justifying the decision to leave (relief and guilt) while the other parent is outraged (hurt) at being rejected.
Parents who are ending their partner relationship need to plan for the needs of the children before the separation occurs. Let your children see that even though you could not resolve your conflicts to stay with each other, you can mutually love and care for the children.
Can children cope with parents who place them in the middle?
Of course they can. Children need both parents. Children love both parents. Children want to please both parents. Children can learn to choose Mom when they are with Mom, and to choose Dad when they are with Dad. They can do it, but it will not help them develop a healthy and positive view of intimate relationships. It will not prepare them for commitment and honesty in their own relationships in the future.
Don't make your children choose.
Instead, meet together (with a professional if needed) to make some basic agreements for the sake of the children:
1 What will you tell the children?
2 Can you meet together to tell them the mutual story or do you need to meet separately?
3 When will you tell the children? You need to tell them as close as possible to the same time if you are unable to do it together.
4 What will change and what will stay the same in the life of the child?
5 Will you litigate or will you mediate?
6 If you choose litigation, how will you protect the children?
Planning at a time of crisis is tough. That is why crisis counselors are important. The breakup of your family is a crisis. Think seriously about sitting down together with an expert in family breakup and successful family reorganization and make a plan.
Your children need protection from the adult issues. They will have enough to deal with as they learn that moms and dads can quit loving each other; as they learn that life can be scary and unpredictable; and as they gradually develop the skills they need to learn to be able to go back and forth between Moms House and Dads House.

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Are You Ready For Reunification?

Parent/Child reunification requires hard work and perseverance.
Answer the following questions as honestly as you can in assessing your level of preparedness for the journey ahead.
Choose 1 -2 - 3 - 4 for each questions:
1 Confident I have this skill
2 Still developing this skill
3 Don't have this skill
4 Open to help
Questions Returning Parent (RP) / Primary Parent (PP):
I have the patience to start slowly and build increased parenting time as my child is able.
I can support my child's need to a relationship with the RP.
I can commit to consistency in parenting time.
I can commit to provide my child for shared parenting consistently.
I will not abandon my parenting time plan at the first sign it isn't working.
I can protect my child from conflict between myself and the other parent.
I will not ask my child to take sides.
I am prepared to explain my absence to my child and their other parent without blaming.
I am prepared to support the RP in explaining his or her absence to my child.
I am willing to participate in counseling either individually or with my child to facilitate reunification.
I have remedied past unsafe behaviors.
I can set aside my personal feelings for my child's other parent.
This process can be incredibly rewarding for your child. They can emerge a better adjusted child with the ability to have love and guidance from two parents.

Two Challenges for the Primary Parent When an Absent Parent Returns

I want to support my child's need for a relationship with the other parent but I am so afraid that I am setting my child up for hurt and disappointment,
Unresolved Feelings
I am still so angry toward the other parent for leaving that I just don't know how I am going to be face to face without showing my child my true feelings.
If these issues are present, don't proceed without professional help. The risks are much greater to the child when either parent rushes the process and ignores his or her own trust or other unresolved issues.
Get expert help when you need it. Appropriate services will provide direct help only when needed to support each parent and the children in achieving success. There will be more professional involvement at the beginning of the process and that will diminish as each family member gains the skills they need to be successful.
Transitions Family Program offers a forensic clinical therapy program specifically designed to help families with these kinds of difficult and challenging family transitions. You can complete an initial inquiry form online at to learn more about the services.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Sample Agreement For Reunification

Some parents are able to reach agreements about integrating a returning parent into the life of a child without needing attorneys or the court. Others will need court orders. Both may benefit from professional assistance.

Whatever your situation, here are the basics for an agreement.
1 We will both seek counseling.
2 Our children will receive counseling.
3 We will focus our attention and conversations on our children.
4 We will build up the amount of time the returning parent spends with our children.
5 The primary parent will retain the support systems and schedule established while the returning parent was absent.
6 To make sure that the returning parent's reentry into our children's lives is for the long term, we will meet monthly for a coparenting meeting (facilitated if we agree on that) to make necessary modifications to our initial agreements.
7 We agree that we will use facilitated coparenting meetings with a neutral professional who has expertise in child development and family resturucting prior to using court resources whether attorneys are involved or not.

Adult Children of Divorce

Often forgotten in the discussion of children and divorce are the adult children. It is presumed that once children reach adulthood they have resolved their issues around the loss of their intact family. This may not be true. Feelings felt strongly in childhood do not just go away because we get older. We all continue to experience many of our feelings from childhood.
Oftentimes adults who were abandoned by a parent as a child will be challenged by trust issues in their personal relationships. They can continue to hold the belief that they are not good enough to be loved by someone. The desire to know that we are wanted and loved can follow us to the grave.
Tips for reconnecting with your adult children:
1 Don't continue to make excuses for not contacting your children.
2 Consider sending your child a letter that lets them know you would like to have contact. Let them know how often you have thought about them over the years. Provide a way for your child to contact you and let them know you will be patient about when and if they decide to get in touch.
3 Suggest a phone call, video chat, or a casual meeting for a first visit.
4 If you do end up meeting, let your child know you will try and answer any of their questions but let them decide how deeply they want to delve into the past history.
5 Be prepared to deal with their pain and anger and apologize for having left.
6 Keep your focus on just establishing a friendship.
Sometimes there is no attempt to reunify until a parent is very ill or even in hospice. Even then it is not too late. Professional providers of supervised visitation can assist with this kind of special situation to get contact established and coordinate scheduling.
It's never to late to change, to heal, to make an effort to find a peaceful resolution.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

AB 2098 - Pending California Family Code RE Child Custody

California Assembly Bill 2098 would amend, repeal, and add Section 3042 of the Family Code, relating to child custody.
Assembly Bill No. 2098 would allow children age 10 and older, of their own volition, to address the judge on matters of custody and visitation in Family Court matters in the State of California. The bill was passed unanimously out of committee last week and sent to Appropriations.
The primary sponsor of AB 2098 is California Protective Parents Association. Other supports include: Center for Judicial Excellence, Incest Survivors Speakers Bureau of California, Mothers of Lost Children and Talk About Abuse to Liberate Kids.
Opponents include: Association of Certified Family Law Specialists, Association of Family and Conciliation Courts, and California Psychological Association.
Legislative authors and coauthors are: Assembly Member Maienschein, Senator Anderson, Assembly Member Baker, Assembly Member Waldron, Senator Bates, Senator Beall Senator Cannella and Senator Fuller.

Building a Plan for Restructuring Your Family When Mom or Dad Returns

Anticipate that you both will need to develop a plan that starts with short, brief amounts of time and gradually builds. Trust must be established between Mom and Dad. Trust must be established between the child and the returning parent.
it is best to develop a plan that will unfold in phases. It will be necessary to evaluate if the pace is too fast (or too slow) for the child to mange and make adjustments.
When the returning parent spends time with the child, all of the focus should be on the child and getting to know who they are rather than trying to catch them up on your life since you've been gone.
Plan activities that engage the child both mentally and physically.
Do things side-by-side to develop a stronger connection.
Don't use electronics to baby-sit your kids.
Don't use electronics to avoid contact when you are together.
Make your shared time interactive!
Learn about each other's interests.
Don't try to "buy" your way back into your child's life. Spend time not money. Bring healthy snacks not candy.
Do introduce your child to new experiences or teach them a new skill.
Do encourage them to share their artwork, their school work, sporting events, hobbies -- everything that can help you learn who this child is!

Thursday, April 7, 2016

Parent-Child Reunification for Teens

At this age if an absent parent hasn't sought out their child, the child may be seeking them. These children are able to move from the fantasy of a reunion that they carried as a child to the idea that they can search out the missing parent themselves.
For children with absent fathers the risks of not having a father figure in their lives can lead to increased sexual activity for girls who may crave male attention and may leave boys floundering when it comes to forming intimate relationships.
If you have not been active in your child's life for several years, don't expect to have an authoritative or disciplinarian role. Be the role model for how they should live and provide support for the boundaries established by the custodial parent on such issues as drinking, drugs, dating, school, enrichment activities, church, and curfews.
Be on the watch for signs that your teen is having difficulty coping. Young men often will tend to appear angry when they are depressed and become more hostile and non-cooperative. Young women often are more likely to show classic signs of depression, withdrawal and isolation; and when unable to process their pain can develop eating disorders and self-harming behaviors.
Both young men and young women in this absent parent scenario may be more likely to turn to alcohol, drugs, tobacco, sex, money, food, relationships to soothe and contain their life challenges.

Parent-Child Reunification for Pre-Teens

Older children may very likely express a lot of anger at the absent parent. Developmentally they are learning to make decisions and do so by categorizing everything into two distinct buckets -- good or bad. It 'sucks' or 'it's awesome." Parent get put into these buckets too! You may have to put up with weeks or even months (or even years) of testy, sassy kids while they check you out and make sure you are safe to let back in again.
Once again we need to emphasize the importance of the primary parent in supporting and encouraging the children to have a relationship with both parents!
In many ways, pre-teens are no unlike two-year-olds. They are curious about new things and are trying to become more independent. When they don't get their way, they act out by being sassy or defiant. A pre-teen will tell their parent they don't know anything and that they are 'embarrassing!' However, they are comforted by knowing that you are not too far away.
Pre-teens will approach when they need you and the next minute push you way. This is true whether they live with you or not! Sometimes nothing a parent says, does, wears, or thinks will be right -- at least they don't acknowledge this to your face.
Parenting a child this age is a challenge that requires lots of patience. Anticipate that their new 'I know everything' attitude and sharp tongue will have you feeling like throwing in the towel. DO NOT GIVE IN TO THESE FEELINGS!! This is the time when staying in the game is critical to proving that you are there for the long haul, for the good and for the bad.
The key to keeping your sanity is not to engage in a power struggle with pre-teens. You can acknowledge their position without agreeing with them. You are the parent so act like one. You can be present without being intrusive.
Be prepared to have your child play you against the other parent -- especially if there is a high degree of conflict or if you don't talk to each other. The more pre-teens know that you won't or can't check things out with the other parent, the more wiggle room they have to push the limits.
The good news is that parents who can hang in there with children this age will reap tremendous benefits from the fun parts of spending time with a pre-teen. Children this age are able to think and talk about more interesting subjects. They are full of ideas and creativity, and they can be really perceptive about other people and wickedly funny!
If their interest and curiosity are sparked this is a great time to develop talents and interests that will stay with them into their adult years.
Hang in there! Be the parent! Be wise and loving and respectful. It is totally worth it!

Parent-Child Reunification for School Age 6-9

This begins the age of empathy and moral understanding. It is also a stage where sadness prevails in situations of loss.
As children this age continue to tr and make sense of their world they do so through the eyes of compassion and empathy. These children deeply grieve the loss of a parent and miss them terribly. Developmentally children this age work hard to please their parents and would rather put themselves in the middle of a conflict that take a side.
When exposed to conflict, these children understand the basic content of arguments -- which are almost always about money or the kids. Given their age, these children will blame themselves for the argument. They might think "if it wasn't for me my parents wouldn't be getting a divorce/separation." When children watch the two people they trust to make their life safe fight, it's as if they are at sea without a life vest.
Signs of distress in children this age are often physical -- headaches, tummy aches, leg pain. Some children might go back to bedwetting. If you see any of these signs consider slowing down the pace of the family restructuring, or getting additional therapeutic help.
Children who are school age need their energy and focus for the huge lessons they are learning in every area of life as they explore and experience. Don't allow your inability to be good and cooperative coparents to take away your child's spontaneity and joy.

Parent-Child Reunification for Ages 3-5

Through the eyes of a preschooler the world is a magical place where wishing for something can make it come true.
Preschoolers live in an imaginary world in which they often make up stories to make sense of their experiences. This can include stories about their family. They also have developed the beginning of concrete, black-and-white thinking that makes them more likely to blame themselves for a parent's departure.
Preschoolers are eager to have two parents and will fantasize about their parents being together. It is not uncommon for children this age to 'shop' for a replacement for the absent parent.
The returning parent needs to try to provide an environment that feels friendly and familiar to your child. If you are able to start your parenting time with your children in your own home, display your child's artwork, photos, and other things suggested by your coparent. If you start in supervised visitation, choose an agency or setting that is familiar and child-friendly. Your child needs to know that they have a space in your home and in your heart when they are not with you.
At this stage children have an increased capacity to worry and can become anxious. Help your child develop words for expressing their feelings in a more concrete way. Typically children this age fear abandonment. Provide your child with constant reminders that you are not going anywhere and will be there when they expect you to be -- for example when they visit or when they get out of school or daycare or have a special event. Show your child they can count on you to do what you say you will.
If you are not prepared to stay and be this parent, then don't proceed. It's not fair to your child.
Watch for signs that your toddler is experiencing anger through behaviors such as biting, hitting being irritable and withdrawing. Other signs that your child is under stress and that you may need to slow down the reunification process include nightmares, baby talking, wishing to sleep with parents, stuttering, toileting regression, or other behaviors that weren't happening before.

Parent-Child Reunification for Ages 0-3

This is a physically demanding time of care-taking for the custodial parent. Consider a structure that allows you to participate in the many levels of care including feeding, bathing, soothing, settling to sleep and all the other dailies of life.
If the returning parent lacks the experience and skills in these areas then ask for help from the custodial parent, a family member or friend, read books and take an infant parenting skills class.
For infants, multiple short visits during the week are best. Babies up until the age of three can have difficulty being away from their primary caretaker for long periods of time. Infants are like sponges absorbing everything in their environment. Thus it is critical that parents provide a soothing, safe, loving, responsive atmosphere. If conflict and tension exist your child will feel that tension inside of themselves.
Pay attention to signs that your infant is experiencing distress, including whining, clinginess, and fussiness that doesn't go away with soothing, as well as changes in eating and sleeping habits. Your chances of a successful visit increase if you can keep your child's eating and sleeping schedules close to what they are in the other parent's home.
Understand that beginning around age 6 months children naturally experience anxiety when leaving their primary caretaker. So if initial visits have your infant clinging on to the other parent's leg for dear life, don't assume they don't want to have anything to do with you and don't assume that the parent is doing anything to cause the behavior!
What should you do if your infant throws a fit when leaving the other parent/ Get tips from the primary parent about what helps calm the child down they s/he is stressed. Consider having a transitional object, like a blanket or favorite toy, which goes back and forth with the child.
If you are the returning parent, you need to be in shape for a marathon as your infant becomes a toddler. Around 18 months of age healthy children naturally seek independence. They explore their world by getting into everything and will need a lot of supervision during this time. Keeping up with a curious toddlers can be exhausting!
Both parents need to focus on the child's needs! Cooperation and collaboration is absolutely essential for the task of raising a healthy and happy child. Make sure your adult issues are resolved because your child needs peaceful and pleasant coparents!

Children Need Both Parents

This is the core belief upon which all services at Hannah's House is based. Many parents respond to this core belief with a sentence that begin with these words: "Yes, but, ........". What follows may include real concerns and threats to the children; distorted fears and personal anxieties of the parent; or projections of bad intentions that actually exist within the accuser.
We respond to the parent with these words: "Yes, and, .......". The child needs to be safe. The child needs to feel as secure as possible. Once safety and security are established, the child NEEDS to have his or her own experience of the other parent without the influence or involvement of the concerned parent.
The primary parent sets the tone for the level of cooperation or conflict that emerges in the coparenting relationship. So, if that is you, you need to be willing to look in the mirror and ask yourself how you have contributed to the estrangement or conflict of the past and what you could have done differently. If there was nothing else you could have done, then what can you do now?
What are the trigger points that push your coping skills to the limit and result in words or behaviors you later regret? More importantly how will you keep your child away from your negativity and desire for revenge or failure now, if that is how you feel? If you insist on being "right" in every aspect of coparenting then you should walk away from the table now. If you are not willing to work, to try, to make yourself open and vulnerable to change then you are setting your own child up for a traumatic experience.
Don't pretend. Be genuine. In this case that means facing your fear and bearing the discomfort of not being in complete control of your child and yourself. The support of the primary custodial parent cannot be overstated in its critical importance to the success or failure of the effort to reintegrate an estranged parent into the existing family structure. If the primary parent is intent on ensuring the process fails, it will fail. If the primary parent is intent on ensuring the process succeeds, it has every chance of succeeding.
The primary parent needs as much support and counseling during the reintegration process as the returning parent does. Unfortunately we live in a world where families are divided by clinicians and the courts into "treatment units." And, very sadly, the unit is very rarely the entire family. How can you facilitate a successful transition in a family by only working with parts of the family?
The Transitions Family Program at Hannah's House works with the entire family system in our Comprehensive Family Restructuring Therapy approach which addresses the important history of the family, the fears and concerns of everyone, and which incorporates all the strengths of the family to work for the good of the whole.
We all have aspects of our Self that we are still discovering regardless of our age or life experience. Part of living respectfully and thoughtfully is a commitment to learn, develop, and become more truly who we are. And that means acknowledging that we all have fears, anxieties, motivations, and desires that distort our perceptions at times. We may exaggerate or minimize reality so that we feel comfortable and reassured.
Restructuring the family after a family breakup is one of the greatest challenges individuals face. Everyone has work to do. Everyone needs to learn new skills. Regardless of how much time has passed or what mistakes have been made or what human frailties have emerged...give your child the chance for a full and complete and loving family life. Take the chance for the sake of your child. You may be amazed how much you will gain!