By Raising Children Network
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After a family breakdown, children will need time and understanding to get used to going between two homes. There are lots of practical things you can do to help.

Helping kids go between two houses

Two homes, two routines
Kids can cope well with different routines in different houses, as long as the rules are clear and you keep things as predictable as possible. You might need to remind your children that ‘in this home, we do it this way’.

A ‘place for me’
Children need a place they can call their own and a space to store their things in both homes. Think outside the box a little. Find a way to give them some ‘me space’, even if they don’t have their own bedrooms.

Keep basic clothing and personal items in each home so kids don’t have to lug everything between the two homes. If your child has a special blanket or toy, make sure your child takes it. This will help your child feel more secure.

As children get older, they will have extra school, social and maybe even work commitments. This might make it harder for them to move from one house to another. You might need to adjust to their changing needs.

If your kids are confused or anxious about moving between two houses, listen to what is bothering them. Any clear concerns can be sorted out with the other parent. If this isn’t possible, a counsellor or other professional might be able to help.

Research shows the importance of dads in kids’ lives. Kids don’t do so well if contact with their other parent is uncertain or unpredictable, or if there has been a substantial loss of contact. Fathers and mothers also offer different things to kids – how dads play, for example, can help children’s development. Read more about fathers staying involved after separation.

Tips for easing the transition

When your children move between homes, they might experience ‘emotional jetlag’. This can leave them feeling unsettled and grumpy when they first get home.

The good news is that you can plan ahead for this unsettled period:

  • Establish a homecoming ritual. It could be eating a snack together, unpacking bags, or looking at future events on the calendar. This can help ease the transition.
  • Give your children a chance to unwind . This will help them settle in. Take your cues from them about whether they’d prefer a quiet activity like reading a book, or something physical like outside play.
  • Keep the lines of communication open. But avoid asking too many questions about their time with your ex-partner. Your children might prefer to talk after they’re settled.
  • If possible, avoid making the transition when your children are tired or hungry.

Getting from ‘No!’ to ‘Let’s go!’

Some children have trouble switching houses. They might decide that they don’t want to go to your ex-partner’s, or come home to you. This feeling might go away once they get into the routine. For some – especially very young children – separation can be quite difficult.

Start by making sure your children are safe and secure. If they’re still asking to come home, let them know that their time with their other parent is important for both the parent and them. You will be there when they get home or will pick them up by a certain time.

When your children are settled back with you and feeling calm, ask why they were upset and provide lots of reassurance. If possible, try to work out a solution with your ex-partner. You might need to look at your care arrangements again, to make sure your children’s needs are being met.

If your children don’t feel safe or secure, you’ll need professional advice.

Other tips to help your children adapt

  • Explain any new routines. Talk about things like who will take them to school, where they will sleep and how often they will see each parent.
  • Try to maintain routines as much as possible in your separate homes. This maintains a sense of security.
  • Try to be consistent with discipline. Continue to reinforce the limits and behaviours you encouraged before the separation (it helps if your ex-partner does the same).
  • Give your children praise for the way they’re coping. This encourages them to keep trying.
  • Give kids extra support before and after access visits. Things will be less upsetting for them if both households are stable, predictable environments where they can feel safe to express their own feelings.
  • Keep grown-up problems for grown-ups. You can say something like, ‘It’s OK – that’s a problem that daddy is working out. You don’t have to worry about it’.
  • If possible, keep children at the same school. The same surroundings, friends, teachers and routine all help.
  • Help children keep in contact with extended family. A familiar support network after the separation will help a lot.
  • Be as available as possible to listen or talk to your child.
  • Encourage your partner to continue spending positive time with your child.
  • This might seem hard to imagine, but think ahead about how you will deal with dating and remarriage.
  • Last updated or reviewed 02-11-2012
  • Acknowledgements

    Article developed in collaboration with Elly Robinson, Australian Institute of Family Studies.

    Based on material produced for Single Mothers: A resource for parenting solo, a publication produced by the Parenting Research Centre in collaboration with the Council of Single Mothers and funded by the Victorian Government Department of Education and Early Childhood Development.