3 Tips For Co-Parenting Young Children

According to Psychology Today, young children and toddlers are the age group that are most adversely affected by divorce or separation. Although divorce and co-parenting undoubtedly affects children of any age, the report by Edward Kruk Ph.D. found that because young children haven’t yet fully developed their cognitive and communication skills to be able to process and communicate their feelings, the implications of co-parenting has an even greater effect on them.

Since the adverse effects of co-parenting are especially pronounced for young children (from infancy through preschool), the need to lovingly support them through the process of divorce or separation becomes even greater.

Here are our top 3 tips for co-parenting very young children:

1) Allow Frequent And Consistent Contact With Each Parent

Due to their limited cognitive development, young children and infants cannot tolerate long periods of no contact with either of their parents. When creating your child’s new co-parenting schedule, be mindful that it is essential that your little one has regular and frequent parenting time with each parent to help support them with this new transition. Not only does this allow them to have the opportunity to form healthy attachments with both parents, it is also instrumental in preventing further anxiety or depression by ensuring that your child doesn’t feel rejected or abandoned by one of their parents and helps to mitigate their yearning for the other parent. After all – think of how much you miss your little one when they’re away! They miss you too and will find comfort in knowing that they will see you soon. By developing an equitable co-parenting schedule that allows frequent contact with each parent, your young child will not only feel loved and supported through this new transition, they will ultimately benefit by being able to form healthy attachment with both Mom and Dad.

2) Ensure Predictability and Consistency Of Transfers / Exchanges

Even if your child is lucky enough to have a co-parenting plan that allows for frequent and consistent contact with each parent, the transfers/exchanges back to the other parent often remains extremely stressful for them. While a custody exchange or transfer may be a routine part of your week as an adult, it is a big deal in their world! While you remain in the same home, your child does not. – And that transiency of their very home life is a big adjustment for them on many levels. Regardless of how healthy a young child’s home life is with each parent, picking up and moving homes frequently is, at it’s core, extremely stressful. Even adults who travel frequently for work can relate to how unsettling “living out of a suitcase” is, and this transience is even harder for your little one. From varying house rules and family dynamics to different schedules and routines , going back and forth between two homes undoubtedly leads to a great deal of anxiety about transfers/exchanges specifically. There are, however, many ways that you can help lessen your young child’s pre-transfer anxiety. 
The most helpful way to create predictability for my young son regarding transfer days was to plot his co-parenting schedule on a kid-friendly calendar so that he knew when in the week the exchange would happen. This allowed my young child to relax into my home on the days that he was with me, instead of constantly wondering if he would unknowingly be whisked off to his other parent’s home. Young children love knowing what is coming up for them in their routine because they derive a great sense of stability and security knowing what to expect. By being able to visually see when a transfer/exchange is coming up, they can better mentally and emotionally prepare themselves for the implications of moving their world on transfer days. I also found that having their own parenting time calendar helps to lessen their feelings of missing the other parent, because they can see on their calendar that they will see the other parent soon. Since I began co-parenting when my son was very young, the co-parenting calendar was an excellent way to make the chaos and stress of the custody transfers/exchanges seem less chaotic and more safe and predictable. 

3) Minimize Your Child’s Exposure To Parental Conflicts

If you’re a co-parent, I’m sure that you are already acutely aware of the impact to your child when there is conflict between their parents. Unfortunately for young children specifically, the immediate and lasting effects of exposure to parental conflict is magnified by their limited cognitive development. Developmentally young children have a pronounced need to feel safe. – And nothing erodes their sense of safety and stability more than witnessing high conflict interactions between the two people that they look to most for their stability and safety. Sadly, even parents with the best of intentions often struggle to peacefully co-parent without exposing their young children to their arguments and conflict. Although it is difficult for most parents, it is absolutely vital for your young child’s mental and emotional health that you do your best to ensure that you don’t expose them to your conflict with their other parent. For parents of young children who find themselves in high-conflict co-parenting dynamics, it is vital to take the necessary measures to reduce the exposure that their child has of such parental conflict. - From supervised exchanges on transfer days to handling parental conflicts privately; there are many ways to reduce your child’s exposure to conflict. Co-parenting is extremely difficult on the parents as well, but it is also very important that you put on a brave, calm and peaceful demeanor when around your little one. After all, young children look to their parents as a barometer of their safety and security. –If Mommy doesn’t seem okay, they don’t feel okay. By doing your best to remain calm and in control when dealing with your ex, your child will be better able to feel supported and secure through this new transition.

Co-parenting is never easy, and when your child is especially young - it seems to pull on your heartstrings even more. The sense of loss that a parent feels over the mere aspect of having to give up time with their ‘baby’ is significant, and is felt on a very primal level. Despite the emotional turmoil that each parent will undoubtedly feel, the greatest gift that a parent can give their child is the ability for them to have a loving relationship with both parents.     


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