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Section 7
Child Adjustment

CEU Question 7 | CEU Test | Table of Contents | Couples
Social Worker CEUs, Psychologist CEs, Counselor CEUs, MFT CEUs

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On the last track, we discussed Setting Priorities in Divorce Disputes.  This included discerning what is right and wrong, acting on what you have discerned and saying openly that you are acting on your understanding of right and wrong.

Do you have a divorced client whose child struggles with coming home after visiting his or her other parent? 

On this track, we will discuss Visitation. This will include Time and Space, Re-bonding and Communicating with the Co-Parent.

Genevieve, age 27... was recently divorced and mother to Bobby, age 5.  Genevieve stated, "Bobby has some weird patterns when it comes time for him to go see his dad, who he gets to see every other weekend.  At the beginning of the week before, he gets really clingy, like he doesn’t want to leave, and even sucks his thumb, like he did when he was 3!  Then, toward the end of the week, he gets really detached and hardly talks to me!  When he comes back from visiting his dad, then he’s always a hassle, and it’s like he wants to test the rules all the time.  He’ll try to take food into his bedroom even though he knows that he’s only supposed to have it in the kitchen.  Maybe my ex lets him take it into his room, I don’t know…"

Three Guidelines to Visitation

Share on Facebook #1 Time and Space
It sounded to me as though Bobby was needing time and space to let go and then re-bond with his mother before and after visitations with his father.  I stated to Genevieve, "Bobby is reacting to the change of having to leave you.  When he gets clingy, he is realizing he’ll have to leave, but by the end of the week he has accepted it.  When Bobby comes home, however, both you and he are, obviously, reconnecting with one another.  Bobby’s perspective is now based on what he has experienced while he was at his father’s house. 

...You, on the other hand, are probably remembering what your relationship was like just before Bobby went to his father’s.  You, of course, want to pick up where you left off on Friday, before he went to his father’s, so to speak with Bobby, to help him feel a sense of continuity.  Accepting and allowing Bobby time and space for adjustment both on Friday evening before and Sunday evening after visitations may be helpful for both of you."  Do you have a divorced client you are currently treating who could benefit by a discussion of their child’s need for time and space before and after visiting their ex-spouse?

Share on Facebook #2 Re-bonding
Now that we have discussed time and space, let’s talk about a solution I proposed to Genevieve, that of establishing a specific re-bonding time.  I stated to Genevieve, "You might think of this time when Bobby returns home as a re-bonding time."  Genevieve stated, "So, I should allow time for re-bonding after visits with his dad, even if it means breaking some rules at my house?" 

I stated, "Re-bonding after visits may not always come naturally between you and Bobby.  Re-bonding develops through things like understanding and empathy, fun and sharing, caring and coping.  The strategy of making this re-bonding workable will become your responsibility.  Bobby may not have the resources to know what is happening or to understand what to do with his own emotions.  Bobby will, however, feel the experience of moving from one parent to another and he will need the support of both of you at either end of the transition.  Since Bobby is now spending part of his life away from you, he may be confused as to what he is thinking and feeling."    

Genevieve replied, "Maybe when Bobby comes home to to me, he needs to test to see if my rules still exist."  I replied, "Yes.  That could be his way of creating security for himself.  Part of this re-bonding time might be learning how to ask questions that will draw Bobby out, listening to him and then trying to understand his feelings." Do you have a client whose children have a difficult time re-bonding with him or her, following a visit at their other parent’s home?  Would that client benefit from hearing this track in your next session?

In addition to allowing time to adjust and re-bonding, Genevieve expressed concern about the actual transition of dropping Bobby off at, William’s, Bobby’s father’s house.  Genevieve stated, "I’ve always been afraid of what would happen if Bobby sees his dad and I together…I don’t want to give him any ideas about us getting back together."  I stated, "If you don’t give mixed messages with your body language and eye contact, Bobby will probably get the message.  Even if you choose not to speak with William in person, as part of your co-parenting relationship, you might inform Bobby’s father over the phone about what time of day or when in general Bobby seems to need the most contact from you." 

Genevieve said, "But sometimes he acts anxious when I leave."  I stated, "When dropping Bobby off, it will probably be important to him to feel secure after leaving you.  Keeping contact with Bobby while he is gone can help him to feel connected with you.  Maybe you need to remind him that he can call you or you can call him, if he would like.  This can make the separation easier for you and Bobby until you see one another again."

Share on Facebook #2 Communicating with the Co-Parent
In addition to our discussion about time and space and re-bonding, Genevieve and I talked about talked more about communicating with her ex-husband.  Genevieve stated, "I’m a little afraid that my lack of communication with William might have to do with some of Bobby’s discomfort…" 

I stated, "If you feel that your behavior towards William has affected Bobby’s ability to re-bond with you when he returns on Sunday evening, or your ability to re-bond with him, again, try the re-bonding time we discussed earlier to Bobby about it.  It is not always easy to talk with children about these situations, but with time, he may open up.  The consistency of you showing that you care by asking questions can help Bobby to understand that you care."  Do you have a divorced client with children that need to open the lines of communication with his or her child who has returned from a visitation by asking questions?

As you are aware, in a situation where parents do not communicate well with one another about the needs of their children, children may be apprehensive about sharing their feelings. 

I explained, "as Bobby gets older, he might deny his feelings for yours, in the hopes that things will get better, so to speak.  When you let Bobby visit his father, let Bobby know that you want him to enjoy the time with his other parent.  Let Bobby know that you will be okay without him.  Bobby might worry about you, and he may need to be reassured that he can let go and enjoy his visit with William.  Developing a co-parenting relationship like this early on can be helpful later in Bobby’s life.  For example, when Bobby starts dating, you may find it helpful to talk with his father about it and come to a mutual decision regarding handling how late he is allowed to stay out,...etc." 

Do you have a client who might benefit from this type of communication with his or her ex-spouse?  Might he or she benefit from hearing this track?

On this track, we discussed Visitation.  These included Re-bonding, Time and Space and Communicating with the Co-Parent.

Helping Children Cope with Divorce or Separation

- LifeCare. (2011). Helping Children Cope with Divorce or Separation. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Peer-Reviewed Journal Article References:
“Latent profiles of postdivorce parenting time, conflict, and quality: Children’s adjustment associations,”: Correction to Elam et al. (2019) (2019). Journal of Family Psychology, 33(7), 763. 

Steinbach, A., & Augustijn, L. (2021). Children’s well-being in sole and joint physical custody families. Journal of Family Psychology. Advance online publication.

Yan, N., & Ansari, A. (2016). Child adjustment and parent functioning: Considering the role of child-driven effects. Journal of Family Psychology, 30(3), 297–308.

Zemp, M., Johnson, M. D., & Bodenmann, G. (2019). Out of balance? Positivity–negativity ratios in couples’ interaction impact child adjustment. Developmental Psychology, 55(1), 135–147.

Online Continuing Education QUESTION 7
Why might a child need to re-adjust after being at his or her other parent’s home? To select and enter your answer go to CEU Test.

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