Parenting Plans for Preschoolers

July 10, 2017

Parenting Plans for Preschoolers

When faced with determining parenting plans (aka custody arrangements) for preschool aged children, most courts will use the “best interest of the child standard.” This standard is most often determined based on the environment which will best provide healthy opportunities for the child’s physical, psychological, and emotional development. In most states, there are several determining factors laid out with room for individual interpretation by judges.

According to leading human development specialists and child psychologists, the four most important factors for determining this best interest standard are:

(1) parent-child attachment,
(2) sleeping arrangements,
(3) maintaining relationships, and
(4) parental cooperation.

Best Interest Factor #1: Parent-Child Attachment.
Key factors for consideration are:

  • The relationship between the child and the caregivers
  • The critical components to child development – emotional availability, commitment, protection, organized structure, responsiveness to needs, teaching, appropriate play, and discipline
  • Provision of a safe and responsive emotional environment (i.e. caregiver helps to comfort children in responses to emotionally charged situations)
  • The bond between the child and the caregiver
  • Ability of the caregiver to properly act as a primary caregiver

Best Interest Factor #2 – Sleeping Arrangements
This factor requires a balance between the sleeping arrangements between the caregiver and the child with the development of the child as an independent person. Many experts agree that:

  • Allowing a child to sleep in a parent’s bed on a short-term basis, for emotional comfort, is not necessarily harmful
    • Permanent changes to a child’s sleeping arrangement, however, may foster developmental regression
    • Sleeping alone is a developmental achievement for children that fosters a sense of independence, autonomy, and competence
  • Regular overnight visits have been associated with better adjustment throughout divorce by toddlers and young children (Pruett, Insabella & Gustafson, 2005)
  • Parents involved pre-divorce who are denied overnight access post-divorce are prevented from establishing a stronger and deeper relationship with their children

Best Interest Factor #3 – Maintaining Relationships
This factor is a complicated determinant because it weights the potential social and development concerns for the child throughout the divorce process.

  • Children have a higher risk of losing significant relationships with friends, family members, and the non-primary parent after the divorce
  • Restricted visitation times, geographical constraints after moving, new parental relationships, and remarriage contribute to a diminished relationship between children and their non-primary parent

Best Interset Factor #4 – Parental Cooperation

  • Parents need to support the other’s parental role and not undermine the former spouse’s authority with the children
  • Parents must not expose the children to parental fighting or embroil them in conflicts
  • Parents must not make children choose between the mother or father, but should encourage them to be close with both parents
  • Parents should encourage others to take a neutral stance regarding the divorce, including grandparents, teachers, and other significant adults
    • Children need to be able to receive support from people with neutral standpoints in order to not take sides or place blame on an individual parent
  • It is necessary to weigh the importance of keeping both parents involved in the child’s life against the detrimental effects of exposing children to parental conflict

Preschool aged children are in one of the most significant developmental periods of their lives. They are learning how to be independent, while also developing relationships with adults, peers, social groups, and family members. It is crucial to think of the most important, if not all, of the determining factors when considering how these children’s parenting plans should be arranged. Without proper consideration for the child(ren)’s needs, they may fail to reach certain developmental milestones, or develop unhealthy relationships with their parents and peers . . . and you do not get a do-over with your kids.

By Lyndsea Seril, Human Development Specialist and
Steven Seril, Mediation, Marketing & Research Assistant

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Age Appropriate Child Custody Arrangements

March 21, 2017

Age Appropriate Child Custody ArrangementsWhen it comes to setting a custodial care plan for children of divorcing parents, there is no end to controversy with regard to what is best. Decision-makers, influencers, researchers and clinicians differ a great deal when it comes recommending the ideal parenting arrangements in a divorce situation.

What all experts do agree on, however, is that children do best when their parents get along well and the children feel that they are being parented together by both mom and dad, as a team.

This handout is not intended to be fully comprehensive, nor is it intended to pre-determine what is best for your child or children. It is, however, a compilation of recent research and conclusions that I have read and heard time and again over the many years that I have been in the family law and mediation field.

Please know, however, that these findings are not necessarily representative of what is going on in the courts. Instead, these findings are more representative of what neuroscientists, human development experts and psychologists are finding to be true about the effect of various parenting arrangements on children of divorce.

When establishing a custodial care plan for your child, it is important to customize a plan that best fits your child’s present needs, bolsters his or her sense of security, as well as helps in the development of the relationship skills for now and the future.

When crafting your parenting arrangements, many clinicians will tell you that children do not count days or hours. They count quality of time. Bickering over make-up time and ensuring a quantifiable 50/50 split, for example, does little to assist your child in becoming a happy, emotionally healthy and balanced human being. They will remember the squabbling; not the number of days missed with Mom or Dad.

They count on whether or not they feel that their parents are always be there for them, without fighting and harsh words to each other, and whether their home life feels somewhat “normal” in relationship to their friends and neighbors.

Infants & Toddlers (0 -2.5 Years):

Infancy is a time for building attachments. Without strong attachments, a child will grow up to have difficulty bonding with and forming relationships with other people. Another primary developmental task for infants is to form trust in the environment, which requires consistency in both the caretaker and the baby’s home.

  • Only about a quarter of an infant’s brain is developed at birth. The actual structure of a baby’s brain is formed in large part as a result of his/her human relationships.
  • Many experts believe that there should be a primary caretaker. This is because infants and toddlers cannot maintain the image of their primary caretaker for long and this can cause extreme stress and confusion to a baby or toddler, who may already have outside caretakers in his or her life (such as daycare, nannies).
  • Many experts believe that the mother is the best choice for the role of primary caretaker. This has to do with the theory that a mother’s brain is better wired to help an infant develop his/her ability to regulate and cope. This is related to the fact that an infant’s right brain (which reacts to deep primitive feelings) is more developed at birth than the left (thinking) side. In other words, many experts believe that mothers have a better innate capacity to” tune in” to infants than do fathers. This comes from new neuroscientific research and is not necessarily accepted by other disciplines or the courts.
  • It is essential that babies and toddlers have frequent time with the noncustodial parent in order for them to bond with that parent—which will be essential when that baby grows into a preschooler. 

Preschoolers (2.5 – 5 Years):

This is a time of continued growth and individuality. This is typically the age where time away from the primary caretaker should increase, and overnights with the noncustodial parent are recommended to become more frequent and regularized (if the child is being raised in a primary-caretaker style).

Some parents begin 50/50 custody at this age. This type of arrangement needs to be carefully considered in terms of the child’s personality, how well the parents get along and how close the parents live to one another.

  • As preschool-aged children start becoming more and more curious about their physical world, many experts believe that lots of time with their fathers is essential to help their preschoolers explore, take risks and investigate their body’s relationship to their environment
  • Preschoolers’ have much greater development of the left side of their brain than do infants and toddlers. This makes it easier for fathers to “tune in” to their children. Fathers and toddlers, some believe, are “wired” to be together and this is the time when the lack of a father can be hard on children in terms of meeting their development needs.

Children (6-8):
This period of development is focused on peer and community relationships. It is important during this stage of development for the noncustodial parent (if that is the parenting arrangements) to be part of the activities that his or her children are involved in. At this stage, children thrive on consistent contact with friends, school, and extra-curricular activities.

  • In non 50/50 custody arrangements, many experts believe that the parenting plans should include multiple overnight visits per-week with the noncustodial parent.
  • However, if a child is distressed by being away from the other parent, it is recommended that the time away should be decreased to a tolerable level, at least for a period of time.
  • If a child tolerates the stress of living in two homes, however, this can be best in terms of his or her opportunity to form strong bonds with both parents.
  • Time spent in your child’s “orbit” is important. Children at this age are watching everything you do. More often than not, children learn more by being around you and seeing how you handle life than they do from what you try and teach them directly.

Pre-Teens (9-12):

During these years, children develop their academic, athletic, and artistic skills. The noncustodial parent (if that is the parents’ arrangement) is advised to schedule time with their child, as much as possible, within the orbit of the child’s home base. In 50/50 custody situations, children still tend to have a “home base” — in terms of schools, activities, friends and where they feel most “at home” — and the other parent will need to develop a comfort level with spending time where the child has built his or her world.

  • Parent-child time needs to allow for the pre-teen’s social life, academics, sports and other extracurricular activities.
  • Parents often find themselves more of a “chauffeur” than a parent at this stage of their child’s life; but driving your children to their various activities is often a good time to talk and share. Volunteer for carpools – you will learn a lot about your children’s friends this way and also get to know the other parents in your children’s circle.
  • It is important for both parents to maintain a strong role in their pre-teen’s life. This fosters a healthy and lasting relationship with both parents. Strong parental bonds are key to a child’s ability to form relationships with others, both now and throughout their lives.

Teenagers (13-18):

This period marks the beginning of psychological emancipation as children rapidly begin establishing their personal identify. Though parents are usually settled into a routine of care for their child at this age, that may change as these teenage children seek to have input into their parenting arrangements. The priorities for these young people are their social lives, academics, and their extracurricular activities. Spending quality time with Mom or Dad is not on their minds, like it may be for their parents. The pressure of having to make space in their busy lives for “quality time” with two parents, in two separate homes, may be a source of irritation and resentment for your busy teenager. Creativity is key at this time in order to stay in tune with your child, while at the same time respecting his or her need to grow-up.

  • The custodial care schedule will need to be flexible in order to work with the teenager’s complex schedule.
  • It is important to consider the teenager’s need for his or her own agenda, as this is a part of maturing and establishing independence.
  • It is important to stay involved in the teenager’s activities such as academics, sports, arts, etc. This is important in order to maintain a healthy relationship with your teenager, show that you care, and know the people who your child is spending time with.

Posted by Robin Graine, JD, Virginia Supreme Court Certified Mediator

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.


Divorce and Your ADD/ADHD Child

February 24, 2015

ADHD_classroomIf you are in the midst of a separation or a divorce, and have a child with diagnosed ADD or ADHD, there are things you can do to make the transition easier for him or her.

First, recognize that your child especially needs structure and order to best perform. As you go through your separation or divorce, it may feel like life has been tipped upside-down to your child. They may be spending time in two households, instead of one. Their daily routine may be interrupted and changed. It may feel harder for them to know what their schedule is on any given day.

Because of this, separating parents should be actively focused on effective co-parenting. Make and enforce similar schedules, so that your child has consistency. Psychologist Judith Glasser, Ph.D., suggests imposing similar bedtimes and amount of screen time allowed.[1] Consider setting up a shared Google Calendar account, so that your child’s schedule will be in one centralized location.

Second, be mindful of the amount of conflict your child is exposed to. While this is good general advice during a divorce, conflict is especially disruptive to a child with ADD/ADHD. This kind of disruption can actually exacerbate the symptoms of their condition.

Psychiatrist Mark Banschick, M.D., describes this in his article for PsychologyToday.com. “Children with ADHD have trouble regulating their emotional responses and the turmoil of a divorce may lead to volatility.”[2] That means your child, whose symptoms were otherwise being managed effectively, may now be acting out more than ever. A good way to mitigate the effects is by considering mediation over litigation. Studies have pointed to the idea that divorce mediation reduces conflict, while litigation increases it.[3]

Third, recognize that your attention may be diverted at times by your divorce, and you will need help. Reach out at the beginning of the process instead of waiting until you feel you’re underwater and you don’t have time to help your child manage his or her ADD/ADHD. This may mean more than just asking friends and family for help. Consider speaking to parenting or family counselors who can help you with your child’s specific needs.

And finally, keep your child’s special needs in mind when drafting your financial agreement. Again, Judith Glasser: “The cost of specialized services for children with ADHD should be considered as parents make decisions concerning child support and spousal support. Children with ADHD may need specialized services such as psychiatric care, individual, group and family psychotherapy, tutoring, coaching and private school. These are expensive and need to be considered in the financial agreement.”

These are good general guidelines for helping your child with ADD/ADHD cope with your divorce. However, every family is different. It is up to you to be proactive and find the help that is right for your situation.

Posted by Jane Baber, Mediation Assistant

This blog and its materials have been prepared by Graine Mediation for informational purposes only and are not intended to be, are not, and should not be regarded as, legal advice.  This information is not intended to create, and receipt of it does not constitute, an attorney-client relationship.  Internet subscribers and online readers should not act upon this information without seeking professional counsel.

[1] http://www.childandfamilymentalhealth.com/adhd/adhd-and-divorce/

[2] https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/the-intelligent-divorce/201304/adhd10-helpful-tips

[3] Robert Emery, Ph.D. The Truth About Children and Divorce, 2006


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