• Zelena van der Leeden, MC, CDC®

5 Ways to Help Children Transition Between Homes

We are a blended family of six: each parent has two biological children and two bonus ones! Before moving in together we started meeting with a wonderful child psychologist because we wanted some guidance around becoming a blended family. For two years, the three of us met regularly and we were able to create a plan that suited our family, so here’s what we learned along the way:

1. Consult with Experts

Let’s face it, perfect parents do not exist. Most of our parenting style comes from the way we were raised: we take what we liked and we modify what we didn’t. We also learn from other parents we interact with; and we try to stay current by reading parenting books and blogs.

The thing is, that there is no perfect formula for parenting, especially when it comes to separated families (see parenting after divorce); but there are plenty of experts in the field who can help you become a better parent:

  • Children Therapists:

They are ultimate experts when it comes to kids. If they see your child(ren), they can give you their input from what they have seen straight from the source! (without breaking confidentiality). In our case, we met with a child psychologist and told them our version of the facts: we talked about our kids’ personalities, behaviour, fears, etc. He was able to support us throughout our transition based on our children’s needs.

  • Family Therapists:

In family therapy you usually meet as a family (whatever that may look like to you): couple, parent/child, siblings, etc. A family therapist is there to provide counselling and enable conversations to strengthen those relationships and heal any wounds from the past.

  • Parenting Coaches

Coaches are fantastic and usually less costly than therapists. They use a goal-oriented approach and help you parent as your best self. They offer different perspectives around family situations and help you develop strategies to shift behaviour and improve family dynamics.

Image by SiberianArt via iStock


A note on getting advice from friends and family:

Even though most of the people we love, trust and admire have the best intentions, it is important to take their advice with a grain of salt. Every family is different and what works for some kids, will likely not work for yours. Experts have professional training and they are up-to-date on the research, so they will be able to guide you properly (and spare you those awkward conversations with your parents or in-laws). People might still give you unsolicited advice, but if you have already consulted with an expert, you can politely explain that you already sought help on the subject and you can choose how much you want to share about your new strategy.


2. Explain the Rules Without Criticism

Assuming you share the same values and lifestyle as the other parent, and you have a good relationship, you should be able to discuss and agree on certain parenting rules: routine, nutrition, screen-time, language… but when you don’t agree, that’s ok! Kids are resilient and adapt to change easily. If your children go to school, or practice any activities outside the house, they are probably already used to following different sets of rules.

You can only control what happens during your parenting time and you might have to remind your kids of the rules until they adapt to their new reality. Even if you disagree with the rules in their other home, make sure you don’t voice your opinion in front of the little ones. You can focus on explaining the reasoning behind your rules (i.e: we don’t allow candy in this house because it gives you cavities). Putting the other parent down will only make your children feel bad, and possibly affect their relationship with you and the other parent.

3. Give them a Loving Homecoming

When you see your children, be present. Give them a warm and fuzzy “welcome home!” They have two homes: it is not your house and your ex’s house. Hug them and tell them how happy you are to see them. It’s ok to say you missed them, but do not dramatize the situation (even if you are crying yourself to sleep every night because you are not used to being away from them). They do not need to feel guilty about leaving you, and if they know you are sad, they will feel sad - just fake it until you make it!

4. Create an Environment to Reconnect

Even though rules are important, be mindful that your children might be a little bit more sensitive on transition days. This is a personal choice, but try to put yourself in their shoes and see if you can be flexible (especially, if your rules are very different from the ones at the other home). In our case, two of our kids have a later bedtime at their other home, so on transition days we let them go to bed a little bit later than usual. If we decide to bend other rules, we explain that we are doing it because it is transition days and that we make them acknowledge that we will go back to our routine the next day.

We like to plan activities that will allow us to bond on transition days: do a craft, cook something, play a board game, go for a walk, etc. Sometimes we give them a few options and let them choose, but as time goes by, they are becoming more independent and less needy (bittersweet, right?)

5. Don’t Grill them with Questions!

As tempting as it may be, don’t overwhelm them with questions about what they did at the other house. Asking them what they ate each day and to report back on the other parent’s behaviour makes them feel like they have to choose sides (remember: different homes, different rules).

If they bring something up, pay attention and watch your reply. If they sound excited about something that happened, be happy for them! Tell them that you love it when they have fun and do exciting things (even if it bothers you that your kids think your ex is the fun parent!). If they complain about something that happened when they were at the other home, remind them that each parent follows different rules and that each is responsible for discipline and setting consequences on their time.

Make sure you focus on asking questions about feelings instead of making statements or accusations (I know this may be hard in some cases, we’ve been there!). If you don’t have a good relationship with the other parent, your children can probably feel it and they might try to make the other parent look bad just to feel accepted by you. Don’t engage! If you hear something troubling, remember who you are talking to and take a deep breath before jumping into any conclusions or actions. If you are worried about their safety, contact your lawyer and/or the authorities, but stay calm and remember that everything has a solution.

A few considerations:

  • Age of your children

Younger kids usually need a little bit more care and attention during transition nights. If they are crying for the other parent and they are too young to understand the concept of time, remind them that you love them just as much and that you will care for them and make sure they have what they need. If you have a good relationship with your ex, and your rules allow for it, arrange a phone call or a video call. If not, let them write them a letter or make them a drawing.

If they are upset about the rules, just explain, explain, explain! They will get used to it eventually, I promise. Just be patient and kind and if you can’t think about a logical reason for some of your rules, it may be time to re-evaluate them. It’s ok to distract them, but try not to use new toys or junk food as a bribe.

  • Parenting Schedule

If you see your kids every 2-3 days, transition days might be easier. Following a week-about schedule might be harder for younger kids and you might notice a little more resistance and a few more tears if they are young. Just take a breath and follow your agreement/court orders. Give them a calendar so they can see how many days until they go back to their other home. Focus on bonding with them, get to know what they like, ask them questions and listen to the funny things they say when they reply. Make time for them and try to arrange your work/leisure schedule around your parenting time. Don’t beat yourself up if you have shift work, or an inflexible or rigid boss. You need to provide, so that is a priority and you can just focus on being present when they are around (we struggle with this too!).

  • Time since separation

If living in two homes is new to your children, understand that it takes up to 3 years (on average) for everyone to adapt to life after divorce. Allow yourself to grieve, practice self-care and understand your emotions, but try to do this away from the children. Remember they have little say in what goes on in a divorce, so try to protect them from the drama and to show them kindness and affection. Time heals, I promise!

  • It is not a competition

Children need love and affection, not toys, clothes and electronics. Do not make this about bribing or about trying to prove who is a better parent. Focus on giving them experiences and be mindful of your budget and financial situations. Kids may remember a day at the beach as much as a trip to Disneyland. Do not feel threatened by the other parent if they are spoiling your kids while they are at their other home. Think about the happiest memories you had as a child and you will notice that most revolve around special moments you shared with your family. Be creative and tell your kids how much you love them, pay attention to their stories and be available for them.

  • Everyone's Personalities

When planning special activities or thinking about bending rules on transition days, take into consideration the likes and dislikes of everyone involved (yourself included). It is hard to please everyone, especially if you have a blended family or if there’s a big age gap between your kids. Think outside the box and if you can’t do an activity that will make everyone happy, try to do something special with each kid, even if it is just giving them 10 mins of your undivided attention. Don’t force yourself to do anything, but understand that kids grow up quickly and that this transition period won’t last forever. It’s all about the little moments in life!

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