Saturday, August 27, 2011

"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.


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