Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: Special Needs of Five- to Eight-Year-Olds
The period of a child's development from five to eight years is a great time to be a parent. Children this age are independent enough to be able to play by themselves and give you some peace and quiet. Many are happy to snuggle and cuddle. They still seek your approval and attention, and they are more compliant than they are during other periods of development. There is probably no better way to ruin this relatively calm parenting stage than to be embroiled in a battle with a disagreeable co-parent.
Make Sure Your Children Feel Secure
For five- to eight-year-olds who do not have the security of stable family, life can be full of anxiety. These are the ages when children start perceiving the finality and sadness of death, which makes them nervous, along with a million other questions that get their little wheels turning. Children begin asking complex questions at this age but do not yet have the advanced thinking skills that can adequately answer the questions. At this age, thinking is still rather black and white.
Children at this stage will pose many "what-ifs" to themselves, then become very frustrated and anxious if they cannot come up with scenarios that calm the fears the what-ifs bring to their sensitive minds. So they need security. They need to know their parents will be there for them. This means that they need to know that the noncustodial parent will always be there for visitation, and the custodial parent will be at home waiting when they return. It means knowing they can call and speak to the parent they do not live with. It means they want to see Mom's or Dad's face at a soccer practice or a school play. It is not difficult to satisfy those needs when two parents have a cooperative and respectful relationship.
When parents do not adequately address the needs of their five- to eight-year-olds, even very relaxed, docile children quickly become cynical and mistrustful; and that is a very bad attribute to produce in a young child, because it only goes downhill from there. Often we hear that children from high-conflict divorces "grow up too fast." When children do not receive the security from their parents they need to grow up healthy, and when they are recruited as soldiers in their parents' conflicts, they feel they have to provide security and reinforcement to their parents. This often comes in the form of expressing loyalty to one parent while criticizing the other, or, worse yet, offering expressions of love to one parent while completely rejecting the other. These are not tasks that young children should be worrying about. They are supposed to get more love than they are required to give out.
Tips for Co-Parenting
Here are some tips for managing the needs of children this age. This advice applies throughout the developmental spectrum but is particularly important in this phase of life.
- Be certain that there is regular contact between both parents.
- Do not make promises you cannot keep. Any promise you make must be seen as a very high priority compared to other responsibilities that you have. If you say you are going to visit, then visit. If you say you are going to show up at a school event, be there.
- Never cancel your visitation time with your child to go off on a social outing with your new partner and their child.
- Do not force your child to state which parent she likes or loves more.
- Do not criticize your child if he says something positive about the co-parent.
- Do not reject your child if she says she wants to spend more time with the co-parent.
- Do not permit your child to overhear your complaints about the co-parent.
- Do not destroy the co-parent's relationship with teachers, doctors, or other important people in your child's life.
Keeping these courtesies in mind will go a long way in protecting your child's mental health.
- Encourage your child to write, call, or send cards to your co-parent on special days.
- Do not ask your child questions about the other parent's spouse or partner.
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