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Supervised Visitation, Helping Children Transition – Part 1
Some of the most frequent questions I am asked by parents, when their children are coming to Common Ground Family Services for supervised visits, tend to focus around children’s adjustment during transitions and throughout the visitation process. While it is expected that children will often have some difficulties adjusting to a new environment and unusual situation, the difficulties are often times overblown by well intending parents and caring professionals. In most cases, children are very adaptable and are quickly able to normalize the new circumstances in which they find themselves.
However, for kids who are initially resistant to change or verbalize concerns about visiting their other parent, here are some ideas for parents to assist their children to ensure a smooth transition and increase the likelihood for a successful adjustment.
1. Set the Tone
Children will follow your lead as parents. How you react and adjust will likely set the tone for how your children will do the same. If you are anxious and verbalize being upset about your child’s visits with the other parent or about your visits with your children having to be supervised, then your child will follow suit. So it is important to avoid making negative comments or sharing your negative feelings about the other parent or about the visits openly in front of your children.
2. Be Positive & Encouraging
Since kids are following your lead, you are setting an example… so be positive and help your kids to transition by letting them know you support their time with the other parent and ensure them that they will be safe and have a good time. Would you discourage your child or make them feel guilty about going to spend the afternoon with a sitter or other caregiver? If not, then why would you do so when they are going to spend time with their other parent? Speaking positively to (when possible) and about your child’s other parent helps children feel good about themselves and their relationship with the other parent and aides in their successful adjustment to an otherwise difficult situation.
3. Free Your Children from Guilt
Parents need to give their children permission to love and be loved by the other parent without fear of guilt or retribution. Kids need to know you will love them unconditionally and not hold it against them if they love and /or enjoy time with their other parent. By facilitating a positive and healthy relationship between your children and their other parent, you are protecting them from being caught in a loyalty conflict, which can be detrimental to their development and emotional well-being. Kids do not want to have to choose between their parents; so parents and caring adults should not pressure them to take sides.
4. Free Your Children from the Burden of Control
One of the biggest mistakes made by otherwise loving parents, well-meaning adults, and helping professionals is to ask kids whether they want to visit with the other parent and place the burden on their shoulders of making the decision whether to have a relationship with that parent. Kids, especially very young children, should not be given this much power and control. Having a relationship with both of our parents is a basic fundamental need with which all of us are born. Many times, even kids who have been abused by a parent still long for a positive healthy relationship with the parent who abused them.
Children who are quick to dismiss a parent and toss their relationship out the window are often doing so out of anger, resentment, or feelings of loyalty to another parent or adult. In most cases, those feelings are temporary and can be resolved through counseling and/or positive interactions with the visiting parent if genuinely supported and encouraged by the custodial parent / party. Children who are discouraged from having a relationship with the other parent and then given control over whether to visit with that parent are probably not in the best position to see things objectively or to make such an important life-changing decision.
In Part II of this series I will share a few more ideas on how you can avoid the pitfalls that have ensnared many parents and families going through divorce, custody disputes, and/or supervised visitation, and how you can help your children to have a safe, positive, enjoyable visitation experience at Common Ground Family Services.
Feel free to leave any comments or questions below. We’d love to hear from you!
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