Spending times in two homes is difficult for children. One of the easiest and most effective ways of making this easier on children is to provide the child with as much consistency differences in rules and routines, but for young children, similarizing the two homes is critical.
Children under six are going through important life-shaping developmental steps. They are learning task-oriented behavior, how to regulate emotions and behavior, how to be industrious, and so on. All of these developmental tasks rely very heavily on clear expectations, consistent rules, and predictable routines. A failure to make homes similar for young children will very often lead to school failures, conduct problems, and sometimes worse. Having the two homes very similar could make the difference between a successful childhood and an unsuccessful one.
What do we mean by making the homes similar? Basically, it includes having both homes be fairly similar in the following areas:
1. Routines: Morning routines of getting ready/eating breakfast, nighttime routines of bath time, book reading.
2. Rules: Bedtimes, homework after school, eating at the table, brushing teeth, no electronics at bedtime.
3. Expectations: Think here in terms of how well you expect the children to do at school, how people talk to each other in a family, how good a job is expected on chores, how clean you expect the children to keep their rooms, and so on.
4. Discipline: An important issue here is how you will carry consequences across homes. Better yet, think in terms of rewards for expected behavior (e.g. star charts for chores completed] and not just consequences).
5. Chores and other Responsibilities: Children should know how to be a good roommate and spouse someday, including helping maintain the residence, doing laundry and so on. Put together a reasonable set of chores and responsibilities, but one that is good training for the future. Decide on an allowance and have that be similar too. Talk about these areas and adjust homes to be more similar. Support each other as authorities with the children and, with older children, work out a way to carry some discipline across homes. This kind of consistency is very powerful for children. It is important that present a united front.
The two homes do not have to be exactly the same, only similar. For example, children might have a dinner chore at both homes, but the exact chore might be different. Likewise, styles might be different in how a rule or routine is imposed. The bedtime at both homes might be 8:30 p.m. but mean slightly different routines. Parents can have different styles and have the two homes be similar enough.