Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: Special Needs of Toddlers and Preschoolers (page 2)
Toddlers and preschoolers are at an age where they are first coming into their own. They are expressing their independence and often their fickleness. In an intact family, were a toddler to say, "I don't like Mommy," neither parent would give it a moment's worth of serious consideration. But when parents are divorced, such statements can be distressing to parents. A toddler might say she doesn't like Mommy or Daddy simply because everything in her world is subject to a thumbs-up or thumbs-down evaluation depending on whether she is being allowed to do what she wants at the time. By the same token a toddler might state that he does not like Mommy or Daddy because it is time to take a bath and he doesn't want to be interrupted from what he is doing.
Keeping this in mind will help prevent you from drawing erroneous conclusions about what happens when your toddler is in the other parent's care. If you hear something from your toddler that sounds unsettling, reach out to the co-parent by saying something like "Mary mentioned something to me after coming home from your house. It was a bit confusing, so I was hoping we could discuss it."
Concerned parents should be very willing to jump through hoops to show that they can care for their children, but sometimes they are frustrated. However, sometimes it might seem like no matter what they do their competence is always being questioned. This can bring a lot of stress in the co-parenting relationship, so please consider what you might be insinuating to the co-parent when you question what goes on during visitation.
Keep the Lines of Communication Open
In toddlers and preschool-aged children, problems can occur because children this age can communicate—but not enough. Parents with children in this age group can prevent a co-parenting disaster, as well as accusations that are made out of overprotective worry and nervousness, by talking about the children between visits and by keeping an open line of communication about bumps, bruises, scraped shins, chipped teeth, shoes that might be too tight and need replacing, and other normal and predictable things that happen to children between two and five years of age.
Compromise, Not Conflict
When you have a choice between compromising and fighting, always opt for compromise. For instance, I have never been a proponent of making a big deal of toilet training, but this aspect of parenting can cause great wars between co-parents during the toddler years. Most frequently the conflict that comes up is Parent A wants to encourage toilet training because the child is going to preschool and the preschool requires it. Parent B does not have the child for that much time, so Parent B does not want to engage in "potty wars." Parent B also wants to show Parent A that she cannot control his life, so if she wants to toilet train, she should do it on her time.
Notice the secondary agenda at work here. The real issue is not toilet training; it is control. Proper toilet training will not determine your child's future mental health. If you really want to protect your child's mental health, ask yourself whether you are making more problems between you and the co-parent than are absolutely necessary. At this age this applies to toilet training, how much junk food your child is allowed to eat, whether your child should be able to sleep in his own bed, whether your child should take a nap in the middle of the day, and whether you promote early reading and other educational skills. Not a single one of these issues is worth fighting over; all of them can be spoken about intelligently and managed with reasonable compromise. In high-conflict cases, they are usually magnified to larger-than-life issues that are harmful to your child and can even ultimately destroy children's mental health. The bottom line is to express your concerns without hysteria and threats so that they will more likely be taken into consideration by the co-parent. If they are not, that is what the courts are there for.
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