(Part 1 of 2)

This is the first in a two-part series sharing co-parenting tips on ways to reduce stress—particularly for children—during the holidays. Part one covers making a child-focused holiday plan. Part two will feature tips for parents to work together effectively as a team.

By Stacey Bouchet, PhD for Dadspadblog.com – With the holidays in full swing, spending time with family and loved-ones and participating in old and new family traditions begin to fill our calendars. As adults, it’s important to remember that the children in our families are also developing memories that will last a lifetime during the holiday season, and, naturally, we want them to be positive memories. Holidays can, however, also include stress and expectations, which can be exacerbated by conflict or poor communication with a former spouse, partner, and/or extended family members.

Having a clear plan for how holiday time will be shared can reduce stress—particularly for children—during the holidays. The plan should put your child’s best interests first, focus on building positive memories, and be clear and consistent.

 Focus Your Effort

  • Put Children First and Act in Their Best Interests. Remember this one very important rule: It’s no longer about you! Ask yourself if the decisions you’re making and the arrangements you’re proposing are in the best interest of your children. Despite how you may feel about your co-parent, your children love you both and need to establish their own relationships with each of you. Regardless of how you feel about your child’s parent, both of you created the child you love, and this is truly a gift to cherish.
  • Reflect on your own holiday experiences as a child. If they were pleasant, then perhaps you want the same for your children. If you have unpleasant holiday memories, then focus on how you can give your children better experiences. Remember that whether you’re celebrating a specific holiday or not, this is the perfect time of year for spending time with family and giving thanks.

The Plan

  • Agree to a Plan and Stick to It. Open the lines of communication for your children’s sake. Discuss in person, by email, telephone, or text (whichever way works best for both of you) until you come to an agreement. Include details like who will spend time where, for how long, and how gifts will be purchased. Write it down and then exchange the plan for the holiday season. You may also want to share the holiday schedule with grandparents or other family members to avoid schedule conflicts. If you’re planning holidays with more than one other co-parent, be sure that they are also aware of the plan, or even include them in part of the planning process.
  • Communicate the Plan and Follow Through. Inform your children of how they will spend the holidays. Do not let them decide or choose—that is too much responsibility to put on a child’s shoulders, particularly if they are young. Let your children know that you and their mother/father have set up a great holiday plan that will allow them to enjoy time with both of you. Your attitude when you communicate is important. Children are very intuitive; they pick-up and internalize nonverbal cues.
  • Communicate Effectively and Be Considerate. Keep your end of the bargain. Do not change plans without discussing it first with your co-parent (e.g., not his or her aunt or mother). Communicate any unanticipated changes, late arrivals, etc. with your co-parent. Be considerate of his or her time. Remember that the focus is the well-being of the most important people in this situation, your children.

Share your successes and tips with other parents on our Facebook page or twitter.

Check back next week for Part Two of Co-Parenting Tips for the Holidays: Working as a Team.

Posted by Stacey Bouchet, PhD

Dr. Bouchet is the Lead Research Consultant at Fathers Incorporated and the Founder and Principal Consultant of Bouchet and Associates—Strategic Consulting for Social Change. She has written extensively on issues related to fathers, family strengthening, and vulnerable populations. She provides training, technical assistance, writing, research, and evaluation to the Health and Human Services field.

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