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.



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.


Divorce: Kids and the Holidays

Divorced Families Experience More Stress During the Holidays

The holidays are a time of celebration and time with family. Unfortunately, this often creates extra challenges and stress.  For most families, the holiday chaos can be tricky to navigate and stress levels can skyrocket.  For children of divorce, splitting holiday plans can be even more challenging. divorce, holidays To ensure that the holiday season is a success for you and your kids, here are a few tips to guide the process.

Divorce and the holidays: Communicate ahead of time.  For those parenting out of two households, it is important to discuss holiday plans and arrangements.  Going through important dates ahead of time can alleviate common divorce arguments and misunderstandings about who gets the kids when.  Equally important is discussing other significant dates and events that come with the holiday season. Some examples are school concerts and holiday performances.  Planning to have both parents involved in these special events can bring added joy  to your child during this time.

Speaking of your kids, remember to include them in the discussion about holiday plans and schedules.  Keeping your children in the loop helps them to feel included. This can give them a sense of control amid all the family changes taking place.  This also reassures them that their needs and feelings are being considered during the process.

Divorce and the holidays: Make new traditions. 

While it may be hard initially to adjust to spending the holidays in two different households, beginning new traditions with each parent can be memorable and fun!  Consider new things to do as a family, adding new traditions that our special and unique to each home.  Maybe kids bake cookies and dance to music with one parent and have a silly gift exchange with the other.  This will become the new meaning of the holiday over the years, and your child will anticipate and look forward to all the new traditions.

Focus on the kids

Remember to focus on the time you have with your child.  This can be a difficult transition for any family, but especially for kids who have holiday split-time that comes with a divorced family.  Kids are very aware of, and often feel guilty, about leaving one of their parents to spend time with the other.  Be mindful of this and let your child know that you will be okay without them. Tell them that you want to enjoy all the time you spend with them.  Carve out as much quality time as possible, so everyone can enjoy the holiday season together.


Does My Child Need a Therapist?

Parents typically are much more worried about having to take their child to a professional than the kids are. Kids and teens usually shutterstock_162527039(1)view their therapist (well, a good one) as an adult sounding board: someone besides their parents who can offer “what if” scenarios to help develop strategies and problem-solving skills in common situations.

Kids come to therapy for a wide range of concerns, and the reasons that parents consider seeking help will vary greatly depending on the age and developmental stage of the child. In school-aged and pre-school children, there may be situations where skill-building in social, academic and emotional arenas appear to be falling behind that of their peers, or lacking in basic areas. A parent may notice these challenges, or may be informed of such concerns by a school social worker, teacher or a pediatrician who suggests further investigation into an issue which may be more emotional in nature than physical.

In teenagers, some of those skills may have been developed effectively early on, but there is a regression or retreat from previous areas of competence. Also, negative behaviors or attitudes that cause significant stress in family, friendship and school/work relationships will frequently motivate parents to seek outside help.

Common Range of Parent Concerns (depending on age of child)
• Excessive worries or fears
• Perfectionistic tendencies
• Irritability or over-reactivity
• Difficulty with transitions
• Difficulty socializing with same-aged peers
• Sleep issues
• School refusal or avoidance
• Decline in academic performance as an indicator of social/emotional struggles

• Inability to identify, express or cope with feelings
• Unresolved loss issues
• Frequent or heavy conflict with family/friends
• Poor eating habits (too much/too little)
• Lack of interest in formerly desired activities
• Lingering negative mood or attitude
• Aggressive or risky behaviors towards self or others
• Non-compliance with authority figures (e.g., teachers, parents)

Who should I call? A social worker? A counselor? A psychologist? A psychiatrist?

Licensed clinical social workers (LCSW) have a master’s degree in social work and at least 3000 clock hours of supervised training in a clinical setting before taking the licensing exam. They also receive supervision training and consultation during their clinical experience.

Licensed professional counselors have a master’s degree in clinical psychology, also with 3000 clock hours of supervised training in a clinical setting before taking the clinical licensing exam.

Licensed marital and family therapists also have a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy and are well-trained to work with children, teens, parents, couples, and families. MFTs have graduate training (a Master’s or Doctoral degree) in marriage and family therapy and at least two years of clinical experience. Like their counterparts, marriage and family therapists regularly practice short-term therapy and prefer to offer brief, solution-focused treatment that is specific, with therapeutic goals with the end of treatment in mind. About half of the treatment provided by marriage and family therapists is one-on-one with the other half divided between marital/couple and family therapy, or a combination of treatments.

These professionals do not need a doctorate degree to practice in their field, but can be in-network providers for health insurance, which helps families afford therapy services. Social workers and counselors often charge less per session for the work they do than their psychologist counterparts, who often also conduct psychological evaluations and testing and sometimes do therapy as well. Psychiatrists may offer therapy, but often are sought when medication is a consideration.

What to Expect In a Therapy Session
Before bringing a younger child in for therapy, a parent will typically meet for an initial session alone with the clinician to discuss concerns, review any previous treatment or diagnostic assessments, and answer any questions for the parent. In a first session with the child (which may or may not include the parent), the therapist assesses in a non-judgmental, supportive way specific information related to the child’s personality, style of relating, and areas of concern. This assessment forms the basis for creating a treatment plan, and identifying specific goals within that plan that are related to the development of the child’s self-directed problem-solving skills.
Parents of older teens often start the therapy process with a phone consultation with the therapist, bypassing the need for an in-person meeting, and the therapist meets with the teen individually from the beginning. In this case, parents are included in the process whenever necessary and useful.

Ongoing communication between parent and clinician is an important part of the therapy process as treatment goals are met or modified. One of the most important goals of therapy is to enable the child/teen (and family) to become skillful and confident in their problem-solving abilities, so that the therapist is no longer-needed. Follow-up or “booster” sessions are available after therapy ends, so that any new or unresolved concerns can be addressed if the need arises.

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