Custody transitions can be just as hard on you as they are on the kids. Use these tips to make your next custody swap a smooth one for everyone involved:
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Communicate with your ex up front about the plan.
Good communication with your ex is essential. You have to develop a strong plan up front for how you'll handle custody transitions. Things you need to address before your next custody swap include: who's picking up the kids, where, and at what time? Don't forget the small things that might actually be huge to your kids, like whether your ex stays outside or comes in during the drop off.
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Give your kids enough advanced notice.
This isn't just a tip for getting your kids ready for an upcoming overnight. They also need to know up front what to expect during the drop off. The more clear you can be, the better. For example, if your ex is dropping the kids off and you've decided together that he won't be coming inside, that's something your kids need to know in advance. And it doesn't have to be a 'big deal.' It can be as simple as, "Daddy's going to drop you off here at home on Sunday,... but he's going to come in."
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Give them choices.
Choice is an empowering tool for kids, especially when they're first leaning to cope with changes they didn't want or ask for. So when you're preparing your kids for your next custody transition, try giving them choices. For example, which video game to bring or which T-shirt to pack. Avoid making them choose between two comforts, though. For example, you don't want to tell your two-year-old to choose between his favorite teddy bear and his blanket.
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Talk about what they're looking forward to.
While you may not be looking forward to being without your kids for a few days, it's natural for them to have some excitement about the upcoming transition. Try to put yourself in their shoes and imagine what they might be looking forward to. Then talk with them about it as a way of preparing them for an upcoming custody transition. This will help alleviate any concerns they have about whether you'll be okay while they're gone, too.Continue to 5 of 8 below.
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Make sure their most important treasures are packed.
What are the things your kids simply can't live without? It might be a favorite stuffed animal, or it may be a favorite breakfast cereal they have every morning. Consider, too, whether blankets and pillows should be included on their packing list for overnights. Anything that helps your kids soothe themselves when they're anxious, or helps them go to sleep, should be considered. While it isn't your duty to make your ex's life easier during extended visits, making sure your... kids' favorite treasures are packed will make the time go by much faster for them.
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Offer communication options.
Some families decide that it's best not to plan phone calls or video chats during overnights. If you've decided together that those in-between communications make your kids more anxious and homesick, then follow your gut. But if you have decided to allow phone calls or video chats, be sure to discuss the parameters up front. For example, are they calling only at bedtime, or can they call anytime? Having a plan in advance will help to make sure you're all available at the planned... time.
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Have a goodbye ritual.
This might be a special phrase you use every time or a sequence of hugs and kisses. For example, you might say "I love you to the moon and back" every time, or "Catch you later, kiddo!" This kind of standard routine can be a comfort to your kids, and to you!
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Exude a sense of calm & set aside your own anxieties.
Finally, make sure you're not giving off your own separation anxiety during custody transitions. This is something your kids will easily pick up on, and it will make the transition that much harder for them. Even if you have to 'fake it 'til you make it,' do your best to exude a sense of peace and calm as you send your kids off to spend time with your ex. Over time, these custody transitions will begin to feel more natural, and you'll probably find that you're... 'faking' that sense of calm less and less.