By Patricia Skinner, MA, LPC
“Where do I belong?” is a common question for children traveling between two households. In divorce and stepfamilies transitions can be difficult for all. This article presents some issues and potential solutions.
For children, it takes time to readjust to moving in and out of households. Adults may be looking for a quick readjustment so they can feel reassured. Children may feel confused, angry, or sad prior to leaving a household. Everyone feels comfortable with the re-established routine.
Sometimes difficult is the return from the “other home” where rules are different, or are non-existent. It can help to think of this as a “re-entry time” for all involved. There is a direct relationship between the degree to which children feel in control of themselves and their behavior. When they have opportunity for some control there is less likelihood of misbehavior. Thus, the goal might be facilitating the transitions in a positive way such as:
- Listen, validate, and help children express feelings regarding the changes – “this seems hard (confusing, difficult) for you.”
- Include children in developing transition rituals, before leaving and upon return. Ask “What would feel good to you?” at these times. This works for children five and older. With younger children, adults may have to make suggestions.
- As children thrive on structure and routine, continue same ritual for as long as it’s effective.
- Encourage children to create calendars (age appropriate) and mark which days at each house – they learn to take responsibility for this information rather than ask parent.
- Make positive comments, encourage, and give them permission to go to other house.
Using the above or other ideas, staying aware of the transition process will ultimately result in win-win for everyone. Let the children know they are loved and belong in both homes.