"Open Phones" As A Technique To Ease Transition/Visitation Problems
In my capacity as an outpatient psychologist, I have
worked with children of all ages for over twenty years.
Usually parents drag their kids into my office complaining
of a litany of bad behaviors, ranging from not cleaning up
their rooms, to getting bad grades, hitting their siblings,
or worse, stealing, fighting or doing drugs. I work with
parents to change their children's behavior. It is very
helpful for the parents to know their children's experiences,
especially after a divorce. This article addresses what
the child thinks about the divorce and how they react,
considering some fundamental needs.
To help your child of almost any age tolerate separation
from either parent, try giving them "open phone" privileges.
This simply means the child can call the other parent at
certain times of the day, or maybe at any time to "touch base,"
"check in" or whatever. Please do not make this a control
issue between the parent and child. Parents have a bad habit
of curtailing or at least limiting the time their child talks
to the other parent because they feel the child should now be
spending time with them. This is the receiving parent's
controlling dynamics coming out, which in this case harms the
child. It also completely misses the point. "Open phones"
is about allowing the child to feel connected and to give the
child a way to reduce his or her discomfort because of artificial
separation from the other parent. Allowing contact with the
other parent reassures your child that the other parent is still
"there." This diminishes your child's anxiety by reinforcing
constancy. To reiterate, the more anxiety your child has or the
more the divorce itself remains an unresolved psychological issue
for all parties, the more likely your child will sooner or later
act out or have other mental health symptoms. To reduce anxiety
without bearing the cost of acting out, help your child talk,
using feeling words. Even if this is done via phone, it helps.
Here is the paradox. The more one parent allows and supports
the needs of the child to telephone the other family, no matter
how long or frequent the conversations are, and no matter how much
time they take up relative to the amount of time the child has to
visit that parent, the more the child will bond more deeply and
faster with the current custodial parent. This is actually simple.
The child realizes the parent doing the "allowing" is a pretty
good person, one who is supportive of the child's needs, despite
having competing needs of their own. This communicates respect
and empathy to the child, who then usually "connects" (forms better
attachments) with this other parent because of the positive emotional
experience. Like the old saying goes, one gets many more flies
with honey than with vinegar.