Every divorce is different, and so is each child’s perception of their parents’ divorce. Especially depending on your child’s age, the same events can be viewed in drastically different ways. This is why is can be hard for parents to understand what their children need during the immediate transition towards divorce.
One of the biggest challenges for children in the divorce is being unsure and worried that they wont get enough time with either parent. Their world as they knew it just fell apart, and despite what you promise, they have a hard time knowing what to count on. The world is not predictable in their eyes, no matter what you say.
Many children may start to favor time with one parent or another. This is not necessarily indicative that one parent was abusive, or is now less needed or loved. Usually it has more to do with how available their perceive their parents and what kind of emotional needs they are longing to have met in the wake of their world falling apart.
Transitions can be a big struggle for kids. You may find that every new transition for kids bring out a roller coaster of their emotions. On the brink of a finalized divorce, I’ve noticed that most parents enjoy blaming their partner for the struggling they see their child experiencing. Not really helpful. What I believe you are really seeing is the tumultuous expression of a kid managing the transition.
One common tool to manage the transition is to provide a transitional object. The object is one that can go with them from place to place, or home to home. The point of the object is to have a concrete reminder that they are safe, connected, and will see their attachment figures again.
Common transitional objects include; Parents’ pillows, parent’s shirt to sleep in, watches, necklaces, blankets, teddy bears, dad’s hat, mom’s slippers, favorite toy, etc.
A child can help find something that makes them feel connected to an absent parent. It should be noted, they are not being asked to take with them an object they like, but something that the parent might need back, or something that they feel a strong sense of comfort from.
If you notice your child struggling with a transition, try the transitional object. Also consider making the going and returning a ritual. Do the same things when they get home to connect (do the laundry, watch a show, make dinner), and the same things when they leave (review the calendar, say a prayer, talk about when you will see them again).