First, I apologize for calling the time spent with a 'non-custodial parent' a 'visitation'. It really devalues what should be known as 'parenting.' Period. However, for the sake of what is commonly known as the time when your children are with their other parent, I will stick to the commonly used word.
Parenting When Separated
When my husband and I first separated and my kids spent time with us separately, I noticed an attitude shift every time they returned. I can't blame anyone. It was what it was. All of us were reeling and even if the kids couldn't fully articulate what was happening in their spirit, they could feel something was not right.
Almost immediately, as they walked in the door, the atmosphere changed into agitation. They would begin bickering or one would smart off to the other--or to me, unprovoked. If I let it go, pretty soon all sense of order would be replaced by unexplained emotional chaos.
They would literally walk up the porch steps smiling and happy, give dad hugs and kisses goodbye, step over the threshold into our home and BAM! Baditude time!
I'm not going to get into all the psychological drama that may have been occurring in their hearts and minds. I only want to share what has worked for us in handling the immediate transition of the children being transferred from one parent to the other.
Shake It Off
I started a ritual we call: 'Shake It Off'. After they say their goodbyes to dad and he has driven away, we all walk back out onto the porch. They are instructed to 'shake it off.' We all physically shake our bodies vigorously. The way we used to do as kids at the end of the Hokey Pokey song. Remember that? "You put your whole body in. You put your whole body out. You put your whole body in and you shake it all about. You do the hokey pokey and you turn it all around, that's what it's all about!"
While they are physically shaking; hands, arms, ankles, legs, etc., I say a prayer or positive statement aloud, that anything that has occurred or been experienced prior to this moment, will be shaken off and left outside. I continue with something positive indicating that once we step into the home, we will have a good evening of peace and love. This works well as a prayer, rebuking anything that is not of God, to leave and not be allowed to enter your home. We end the shake off with a deep breath as we reenter our home together.
This also gave my children key words we recognize and use to indicate they desire an attitude shift even if they can't explain it or have no desire to talk about it. I will ask, "Do you need to shake if off?" And they know they can step outside, shake it and come back in and start over. They are free to ask me this too--and they do! It's not offensive, non-threatening and a great way to redirect and do a self-check.
It gives us a safe way to talk about issues with out having to feel embarrassed or awkward. By altering just a couple words, "Do you need to shake anything off?" they know they can talk, if anything is bothering them. It lets them know the door is open, figuratively, if they are ready to talk, with out it having to feel awkward by me asking directly, "Do you want to talk?"
This is one empowering exercise that can be used to help your children navigate these confusing and sometimes heart wrenching seasons. Emotions can be out of control and often children aren't even aware of what or why they are feeling the way they are.
Children don't have control over their parent's marital relationship. They rarely have control over where they will live or whose home they will be sleeping in that night. However, they can be taught skills to give back some self-control when they are subjected to situations out of their control. As parents, we are not only responsible for teaching our children how to control their emotions but to teach them tools to manage them as well.
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