The Custody Agreement: 4 Tips to Make Co-Parenting Easier

Where am I sleeping tonight? Whose picking me up from practice? You’re ruining my life! Do these sound familiar to you? If you are a parent in the middle of a custody agreement or divorce, chances are you have heard these statements before. As a therapist, I have guided parents through this difficult time and made it a priority to focus on the kids’ needs first.

 

Kids Needs

Although it may be a very emotional and stressful time for a parent, children have described feeling scared, confused, sad, angry, and guilty when their parents tell them that they are getting a divorce. Developmentally, kids are not able to process the information the same as adults. At the beginning, it is important to remember to eliminate any negative feelings towards the other parent when talking to your children. Children are a product of both parents and have described feeling personally attacked when parents talk bad about one another. The goal during this time is to make the difficult transition as smooth as possible and cause the least amount of harm to your child. Below are 4 tips to make co-parenting easier during both custody agreements and the divorce.

 

Open and Honest Communication

When you tell your children that you are getting a divorce, it is important to have open and honest communication with them. Questions about why it is happening and statements about trying again are common phrases that are used. As parents, sit down prior to talking with your children and discuss a plan about how you will answer the “why” question and what the conversation will look like. You want to present a united front and show support of one another (even if feelings are not mutual). Again this time is about putting your child first. It is important not to lie and rather phrase the truth in a kid friendly way. For example, if you are getting a divorce based on years of arguing, you may find yourself telling the children that “Mom and Dad struggled with communication.”

 

Validate Emotions

Although your first instinct might be to tell your children “I know how hard this is for you,” this phrase can often make children more upset. In the moment, you can’t understand how your child is exactly feeling in that specific situation. In order to validate their emotions and promote more open communication of emotion, parents can use a different phrase when discussing the divorce. Instead of saying “I know,” you can say, “I can’t imagine how you are feeling” or “Can you tell me the emotions you are feeling?” Children will feel more validated, supported, and connected to their parents when these phrases are used.

 

Educate

Children don’t always understand all the “adult words” when it comes to a custody agreement or divorce. There are several questions about where they are sleeping or how many days they will be with their parents. Remember to educate them on terms that you use rather than assuming they know. As parents, you have the opportunity to define custody agreement or divorce agreement for them rather than them assuming or hearing from their peers or TV shows. Be specific and provide details so they can concretely think about what is to come. If children are younger (2-6 yrs old), use stuffed animals or toys to describe what is happening).

 

Calendars and Visuals

Reducing any anxiety is key to ensure that your child’s needs come first. There is a lot of “unknown” when children are going through a custody agreement or a divorce. They communicate their fears and worries, but don’t know how to get rid of them. Calendars and visuals are a great way to reduce stress and anxiety about the confusion and provide them with more control. I have recommended having a family app for both the parents and children to see. Our Family Wizard is one that I have recommended in the past and have seen successfully used. Google calendars or phone calendars can work as well. If children are younger (2-6 yrs old), use a visual calendar in their room and have a symbol for Mom or Dad. These will not only be successful tools for co-parenting, but also provide your child with peace.

 

Now, you can move forward and have a confident approach to answering and responding to these questions. Remember the kids do come first and their needs are the most important to address. If you need more guidance, our team of therapists are all trained to be a support during this process.

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Video Game Obsession – 3 Quick Ways to Set Healthy Limits

Remember the days when video games were a privilege and something that wasn’t as mainstreamed as a social outing? As kids, we would play outside, ride our bikes, and go to the park with friends. It seems that in today’s society, video game obsession is taking over and causing frustration for both parents and children. Children are constantly asking to play Fortnite or Call of Duty online with friends and spending money buying gear for their characters. Parents are asking their children to go play outside or do something more active. If this sounds like something you have experienced, you may struggle on knowing the appropriate ways to balance and set limits on your child’s video games.

I have often heard the frustration from parents that their children are spending too much time on video games and not enough time helping out around the house. Understanding how to balance fun and recreation with being responsible in the home is an important part of independent growth. Today, I want to provide you with 3 tips to set healthy limits that can help you manage video game obsession.

Time Limit and Routine

It’s important to sit down with your children and come up with a video game time limit. For example, during the school week (Monday-Thursday) they are allowed to play for 30 minutes after school from 3:30pm-4:00pm.  During the weekends (Friday, Saturday, Sunday), they can play for 1-2 hours (depending on their age) in the morning, afternoon, or before dinner. These rules need to be specific and clear. Remember to tell your children about the rules when there are no distractions happening and they are fully listening. Let’s say you want to have extra video game time as a reward. That’s okay to do, but establish this with the video game rules. For example, if they get this reward it’s an extra 30 minutes. Children may ask for extended time in their games or try to guilt you into playing more times a day than you have established. Remember to hold your boundary and to not give into this request.

Size of the Problem

When children have strong reactions to turning off the video games and transitioning to the next event, remind them the size of the problem. Some children tend to have huge reactions towards this moment and as parents it can be difficult to reason with them. We want to help our children self-regulate independently. Challenging their thinking by asking if this is a small, medium, or huge problem can be effective. This can always put things in a better perspective for them in order to realize that their reaction is not matching the size of the problem. If your child struggles significantly with transitions, transition objects can be a positive replacement to use in these moments.

 Social Understanding

Video games have universally become a way for people to socialize with their friends when they are not with them. This can establish healthy social communication patterns between friends and assist with building rapport with peers. It is important to monitor who your children are playing with and making

sure their online friends are children you know. Safety first! Also, it is important to be mindful that your children may be playing online with their friends. Provide your children with the line, “Let your friends know this is the last game.” This will reduce strong reactions and maintain frustration tolerance as well as not damaging their “social” interactions. Remember what we discussed in the first tip! Talk with your children and establish these rules before using them to help you manage their video game obsession.

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Chicago Tribune – Sarah Rudek Interview

Sarah Rudek, MA, LPC, a therapist at  North Shore Family Services with offices in Northbrook, Skokie, Park Ridge, and Libertyville, was interviewed by Jackie Pilossoph of the Chicago Tribune to provide guidance to “Solo Moms” on how to handle situations where the other parent doesn’t show up for visitations. The article provides both practical and specific tips to help their children through the disappointment as well as helping the parent understand what they can and can’t control in the situation. Read more here.

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Secrets to Middle School Success

Middle School Success:

If you could go back to middle school, would you? Most adults wouldn’t! Think about it: challenging peer groups, different teachers and classmates at least 8 times a day, figuring out what each teacher expects from you and how to act around various peers of varying degrees of social status? No wonder middle schoolers sleep until noon on the weekends. It’s exhausting!

Despite all of the overwhelming factors, middle school can also be an exciting time. Not only do middle schoolers learn new independent skills, but they are also given more responsibility. Teachers’ expectations are higher, peer situations are evolving, and school work is escalating. We want to ensure that our kids are prepared to head into middle school with confidence and realistic expectations for the upcoming school year. Here are a few tips to help your child make the transition to middle school a positive and successful experience.

Organization and Executive Functioning Skills

  • Buy an assignment notebook and write down the assignments before leaving  each class (Don’t wait until the end of the day)
  • Use colorful binders that coordinate with notebooks (One for each subject)
  • Find a place in your home for homework each night (Keep things in the same place)
  • Prioritize homework assignments for that night (Don’t skip instructions)
  • Time Management (Make sure you have enough time to do your homework before and after school activities, relaxation time, dinner, and bedtime)
  • Put papers away after finishing them (where they are supposed to go)
  • After completing assignments, put folders and notebooks back in backpack right away (Don’t wait ’til later)

Asking for Help (Self-advocating)

  • Talk with your teacher if you don’t understand something (Teachers are more willing to help you with homework when you ask them questions instead of skipping the assignment)
  • Use I-statements when asking questions (e.g. I feel confused because I don’t understand the homework instead of- You didn’t explain it).
  • If you are worried about asking a teacher in person, write a note or email your question or concern to your teacher

Peer Interactions (How to Make and Keep Friends)

  • Keep inviting peers to engage in activities (not excluding others)
  • Showing positivity towards others
  • Respecting everyone’s personal space and understanding boundaries
  • Listening to what that person is saying without being distracted
  • Stop and think before acting or saying something
  • Show empathy towards peers
  • Don’t post information on social media that is disrespectful to peers
  • Don’t gossip, start drama, or bully kids

 

Remember, middle school doesn’t have to be as scary as it may seem. Use these preventive strategies to start your journey on a positive note!

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Motivated for Summer Weather

Top 3 Reasons to Keep You Motivated for Summer Weather

by Sarah Rudek, MA, LPC

So, you are finally ready to start to get your summer body ready. “I’m going to the gym and eating healthy!” The question that everyone thinks about is How Do I Stay Motivated?  Research has shown that there is a correlation between a healthy lifestyle and mental health.  Below are the top 3 reasons to stick with your health goals for summer.

1.     Stress Reduction-Stress is part of our daily life. There are both positive and negative components to stress. Positive stress keeps us motivated to work towards a good outcome. Negative stress causes us distress and leads to a bad outcome. When we are working towards a healthy goal, we want to increase positive stress and stay motivated. Yes, we may think that an hour of exercise each day could cause us negative stress, but in reality, it is good stress. Exercises such as running, swimming, and cycling can push us into the positive stress category and therefore reducing negative stress.

2.     Gaining Mindfulness– Mindfulness is a coping skill that several professionals will use as a technique to reduce anxious symptoms. There are three states of the mind: the reasonable mind, wise mind, and emotional mind. Mindfulness will help lead us into our wise mind, also known as the balanced mind. In order to achieve mindfulness, you need to be fully focused on the present moment without trying to process it. Exercises such as yoga, pilates, or cycling will give you the opportunity to be fully present in this state of mind.

3.     Achieving Holism within your Body– Our bodies are interconnected.  How we sleep, eat, and exercise can significantly affect our mental health. Sleep allows our minds to process what has happened that day and recharge for the following day. Eating healthy gives our bodies positive energy to move forward and conquer various tasks throughout the day. Exercise provides our bodies with mindfulness, stress reduction, positive energy, and overall positive health.  Connecting these three areas of our body is important to provide ourselves with a successful outcome.

 

Remember, you can do it!

The motivation will allow you to get through all the negative thinking. Continue to challenge your negative self-talk and keep in mind the reason you started.

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