Creating a parenting plan or custody schedule for older children can be challenging. Pre-teens are preparing to make the leap into adolescence. They become far more independent and want to do things for themselves. They pay attention to the way they look and the acceptance of a peer group is very important to them. Their increased ability to think logically and their more developed sense of conscience may lead to stronger judgments, statements of opinion, and increased arguments. They can discuss issues in detail, want explanations for other’s decisions, and want the freedom to solve problems on their own. They may side more with their peers and confide in them more readily. It is extremely important of coParents to be on the same page when parenting children at this pivotal stage and choose a parenting or custody plans that can give their children structure and quality time with both parents (unless there is a danger to the child).
Children, at this stage, begin to test values and belief systems and need to be able to express their feelings however they must still recognize that the parents make the final decisions. They may choose to side with one coParent over the other. This may change based on the specific issue or the parenting style. They need to be encouraged and given permission to love both parents and understand that issues between their parents are not their burden.
When coParenting, there is a difficult balance between providing structure and creating the chance for independence. Families need flexibility so the child may have the time required with friends and activities as well as with both coParents. Parents need to encourage the move towards independence while providing reasonable and consistent limits and boundaries.
When Designing a Plan for Your Pre-Teen, Remember:
- Parenting plans must provide frequent, meaningful contact with both parents.
- Pre-Teen children do well with many different options for parenting plans as long as the contract is structured and consistent. When possible, plans should include overnights during the school week and on weekends so that both parents may be active participants.
- Schedules can provide longer times away from either parent (up to a week) but must take into consideration the child’s activities and school responsibilities.
- Children should be given open telephone access to the other parent and be given privacy for the calls.
- Rules and routine between the households should have some consistency and continuity for increased success.
- Develop a format for discussing the child’s academic and extra-curricular activities without including the child in discussions (journal, email communication, phone conference, “business-like” meeting).
- Children can be consulted about their views and suggestions, but the parents should still make the final decision.
Be mindful if a pre-teen child loses interest in friends and other relationships and begins to isolate themselves (spending extended times in his room, skipping meals and activities, not going out or not answering the phone). If the child begins to take sides or feels the need to take sides with one parent there is a greater chance of depression and rebellion. A change in school performance and peer group may also indicate some loss of well-being. Communication between coParents and child is key to offering them help and support if they are going through a rough time. Sometimes it is easier for a child to open up to one parent over the other and know that it is entirely ok and nothing personal.