Living in two homes after separation: Helping kids to cope.

Living in two homes after separation: Helping kids to cope.

divorceIn my job as a clinical psychologist, divorced and separated parents often complain that it takes their child a few days to “get back to normal” after spending a week with their ex. Reports of tantrums, defiance, withdrawal and aggressive behaviour are common.

As we know, kids often reveal their emotions through their behaviour, not with words. Therefore, this “acting out” period is likely occurring because transitions are hard. Imagine if you had to adjust to a different house every week. Talk about tiring!

The good news is, there are things that you can do to make transitions easier for your child.


  1. Know that kids can cope well with separation. However, they don’t cope well with conflict. They can feel deeply hurt and torn between parents and conflicted about what to say and how to act. Therefore, try to work out a parenting agreement and if it is impossible to be cordial with your ex, assume a business-like relationship and keep arguments away from children. This resource helps a lot of parents:


  1. Kids respond well to structure and routine. Swap over on a day where there is a normal/ predictable routine. For example, on a Monday, after school. Whilst fun, weekends are often less predictable.


  1. Collect your child from childcare or school (instead of your ex’s home) on the handover day. This way, your kids will be collected on neutral territory and enthusiastically welcomed into your home for the week.


  1. Allow a few hours of down time when your child comes to your house. This allows them to settle in and relax. During this time, don’t bombard them with questions about what they did during the week. Instead, talk about neutral topics to begin with (e.g. We are having a bbq for dinner, come have a look at the tree we planted).


  1. Have a visual schedule on your wall so your child knows what they are doing, and when. This will give them a sense of control, which is empowering.


  1. Maintain regular contact with your child when they are not with you. For example, a nightly call, FaceTime or Skype.


  1. Try to have some consistent rules in each household, such as a regular bed time routine and time limits for technology.


  1. Buy some things together to keep at each house, such as a toothbrush, toothpaste, pyjamas, shampoo.


  1. There are lots of good books to read to your child about changes after separation, such as My Two Homes, All Families are Different. Reading stories can help to normalise their experience and can also act as a launching pad for deeper conversations.


  1. For many kids, moving between homes can feel like a loss. Giving them time to process the change emotionally is important. Sometimes, if your child is struggling to cope, giving them the chance to talk with a child psychologist can be helpful. A child psychologist can be a neutral adult to help to guide them through the transition in a safe, non-judgmental and caring way.