Smart Parenting During and After Divorce: Visitation Tantrums (page 5)
Children throw temper tantrums over visitation for a number of reasons, so it is unwise to assume that the "real reason" is because he is not well taken care of at the other parent's home.
Reasons Children Don't Want to Visit
Some of the reasons children give for not wanting to visit with the other parent include the following:
- "It's boring."
- "I don't like the other people there."
- "I am afraid to sleep over."
- "I am left with a babysitter while Mom [Dad] goes out."
- "I don't like the food."
- "I get hit when I am there."
- "Dad [Mom] likes [somebody else] more than they like me."
There may be other reasons, but these statements cover most of them. When a child's protests are exaggerated and seemingly just whining, the issue usually boils down to these reasons:
- I don't want to leave my main house, which is comfortable and has all my stuff in it.
- I am not getting enough attention, and I don't like sharing attention.
When the protests are not exaggerated there may be a true cause for concern because the child may be saying she is being neglected, ignored, or abused.
Children rarely refuse visitation when they are given lots of prompting and advance preparation. Prepare the children well in advance by speaking positively about it.
Attending to Your Child's Concerns
To properly attend to your child's concerns, speak with her in a neutral way, and try not to make any assumptions. Ask your child to tell you what a typical visit is like. If your child complains of being hit or spanked, ask him to tell you a story from the beginning of what was happening before the spanking to what happened after the spanking. Be aware that children will often exaggerate the negatives of what happens when with the visiting parent, especially if negatives are what seem to get the most attention from you. (A parent's getting excited and hysterical can be very rewarding for children because it teaches them how important they are when they are giving bad news about the other parent.)
When you see cranky behavior before visitation, do your best for the first few visits to encourage visitation. One of the worst ways to encourage a child to go to visitation is to give the child a rest or break from visiting. When this happens, the child often knows she is disappointing the other parent, and she feels even more nervous and guilty the next time it is time to visit. As a result, she might protest even more. The parent the child is with more often can make the situation worse by starting arguments with the co-parent and making the child feel bad about not visiting.
Talk to Your Co-Parent
Before you even think about cutting off visitation, do your best to have a conversation with the co-parent. Begin your conversation with the following: "I have been having a rough time getting Judy to go to visitation. Can you tell me how she is in the car and once she gets there?" This will make the co-parent less defensive because it implies that you are willing to accept that once the child leaves the house she is fine. Don't expect any gentle prodding to be taken well by a co-parent who has a hostile relationship with you. This type of problem solving is simply impossible when parents do not have a good relationship—just one more reason why it is so important to try to maintain a good relationship.
Get Professional Help
If the child starts to regularly complain, it is time to enlist the aid of a counselor who is familiar with this problem. Invite the co-parent to participate from the first session so that the co-parent does not feel as though the counselor is simply your ally. A good counselor should be able to get to the bottom of the child's complaints.
When parents have a good relationship with one another, they can sit down with the child together and ask what would make visitation happier. Often, children do not know, so if this approach does not yield something practical, do not push it. Frequently, children do not want to be interrupted playing, or they do not value time with the other parent. This occurs when parents divorce when children are very young and children do not have a good model of the give-and-take that is required in relationships.
At some point, children will refuse visitation because there is not enough in it for them. They reject visitation because they are not properly entertained. This can be the case where one parent has the means to take them to the movies, shopping, and out to eat on a regular basis, and the other parent does not. When this is the case, parents need to work on teaching the child that a person's company is just as important as the amount of rides they will take you on. By the same token, visiting parents must stimulate their children. Your six-year-old might become very bored sitting next to you on the couch while you watch football games on Sunday.
Also, children will tune into your moods and react accordingly. If you are sad, lonely, or depressed, and this is what your child sees during visitation, eventually he might not want to be in your company. If this is the case, it is time to seek some counseling for yourself.
When Your Child Wants to Live with the Co-Parent
Children will also tell you that not only do they want to go to the other parent's house, they also want to live there.
What Not to Say
First, I will tell you what not to do. Do not say any of the following:
- "OK, pack your stuff and call your father [mother]—you can leave right now."
- "Never. As long as I am alive you will not live with that moron. You are here, like it or not."
- "Sure. Go where life is easy and it's playtime all the time. Take the easy way while I sit here and rot."
- "Shut your mouth and go to your room. I never want to hear you say anything like that again."
Assuming that your child is not chronically unhappy, and that she is telling you she wants to live with the other parent primarily to push your buttons, what your child is really saying is that she is angry, bored, or otherwise irritable. Now consider this: when you are angry, bored, or otherwise irritable and someone says something nasty or confrontational to you, how do you respond? You probably get angrier and crankier, if you are like most people.
Parents do not have endless patience, but children often appear as though they have an endless capacity to twist parents' guts. Eventually something snaps, and you are at war with your child. This happens most when parents need something their children do not want to give, like cooperation, and when children want something their parents do not want to give, like expensive new shoes.
Children from divorced homes naturally conclude that there are two venues available, and when one parent does not give what they want, the other parent might. Heck, it can't hurt to ask.
One thing you never want to do when a child has a tantrum and says she wants to move is to throw a tantrum yourself. The only thing you will accomplish by doing this is to teach your child what she needs to do whenever she wants to make you lose control. Bite your tongue, take ten deep breaths, walk out of the room if you have to, but do not let "I want to live with . . ." become "magic words."
What to Do
This is not a situation that always requires a conversation with the co-parent. Often, it doesn't even require much of a conversation with a child. You can say, "I am sorry you are so unhappy. The decision regarding where you live is an adult decision, and even though you probably don't like hearing it, you do not get to choose that."
Your child may ask you whether he will ever get to choose, and the answer would be either yes or no, depending on what you have discussed with the co-parent or other factors. Whatever the answer is, be firm and decisive and follow up with, "I wish I could do all of the things that make you happy and comfortable here, and I will listen to you tell me what I can do to make you happy here. Saying you want to live someplace else is difficult for me to listen to, but if that is the way you feel, that's OK. Let's try to talk about the things that we might be able to change. I am sorry I can't talk to you about the things we can't change, like where you will live."
Statements like these are meant to initiate a dialogue with your child. That is not always possible. You might want to consider trying again when your child calms down a little.
When Your Child Is a Teen
When children get into their teen years, they often say they want to live with the other parent because the grass might seem greener on that other side. It will not be as easy to be decisive and firm with teenagers, because teens react to this by engaging you in discussions about their rights, freedoms, privileges, and whatever else they can come up with. You might want to consider offering your child the opportunity to spend more time with the other parent if that is what he seems to be asking for.
If your teen wants to go to the other parent's house because her school grades are slipping and you are requiring her to be responsible and clean up her act, engage your child in a discussion that encourages her to ask you again when her grades have improved. If your child's performance is slipping in school, it might be worth changing the visitation schedule or even the living arrangements if nothing else has worked to motivate him to improve. By the time children reach teen years, they have precious few years left before they are out of the house and on their own. You would be doing them a favor in more ways than one if you can help them be prepared for college.
As with most parenting choices and decisions, it is helpful to have a good relationship with the co-parent. Both of you should give your child the consistent message that before any changes are made, grades must improve. You don't want the decision to change living arrangements to reinforce your child's desire to escape responsibility; furthermore, it's possible that the co-parent will not properly supervise the child, in which case the change could prove disastrous. Every case has its own set of circumstances. Cooperating with the co-parent in finding a solution that motivates your child to perform closer to her potential is a good parenting choice, but it is only available when divorced parents try to get along.
When You are the Noncustodial Parent
If you are the noncustodial parent, it will probably happen at some point that your child tells you that she does not want to leave to go back to the other parent's home. If a child is young enough when two parents divorce, this will most likely occur on a regular basis. When it does happen, do not be so quick to assume that it is because your child is chronically unhappy or mistreated. If your child loves both of you, she will be sad when she has to leave either of you. This is especially true of younger children, who think and behave in more concrete terms and are more likely to fuss about leaving because the act of leaving makes them upset and the thought of not leaving would make those bad feelings go away (in their world).
I often hear from visiting parents that young children have a difficult time leaving, and they protest when it is time to go. I also hear from the custodial parents in these cases that the same child cries and protests when visitation time comes and they have to leave.
As children get older and more verbal, they might talk about being unhappy at their main residence. As you are listening to the child complain, you must make a very difficult evaluation: Do you think your child is complaining because the act of complaining brings lots of attention from you? Or, do you think your child is genuinely communicating discomfort in the custodial parent's house? If you do not have an open line of communication with the co-parent, or if your relationship with the co-parent is hostile and combative, it will be very difficult for you to make an honest assessment of what is going on.
You might want to consider the opinion of a professional counselor who works with children of divorced parents, but when you do, it would be best to invite the other parent to participate from the very beginning. In the best-case scenario, the counselor might be able to give you and the co-parent some reasonable suggestions on how to make your child feel more comfortable in her situation. If you decide that the current situation is not in the best interests of your child and believe that you need the court to intervene to change it, you will be taken far more seriously if you can show that you tried your best to use counseling as a form of problem solving before seeking legal relief.
Add your own comment
- Kindergarten Sight Words List
- The Five Warning Signs of Asperger's Syndrome
- What Makes a School Effective?
- Child Development Theories
- 10 Fun Activities for Children with Autism
- Why is Play Important? Social and Emotional Development, Physical Development, Creative Development
- Should Your Child Be Held Back a Grade? Know Your Rights
- Bullying in Schools
- First Grade Sight Words List
- Test Problems: Seven Reasons Why Standardized Tests Are Not Working