Avoiding the Switch Battle:
What to Do If Your Child of Divorce Doesnít Want to Go to the Other Parentís House

By DK Simoneau†

Split-family living isnít easy. Children of divorce often ride a roller coaster of emotions that can sometimes make even the best of divorces seem chaotic. They withdraw. They throw tantrums. They refuse to eat. They cry. They get angry. They say horrible things. Even when both parents are very involved and there is absolutely no abuse or other negative activity going on, kids go berserk. Sometimes they dig in their heels and refuse to leave one parent to go to the other parentís house at switch time. Youíre in the middle of a switch and your child refuses to go. What can you do?† Here are ten ideas to keep in mind if you ever find yourself in the middle of the switch battle.

  1. Donít talk negatively about the other parent. Children tend to be natural pleasers and they donít want to disappoint you by going over to the other side. They also may interpret some of the negative things as things to be afraid of. They may feel fear and guilt about visiting the other parent.Itís tough for a child to hear double talk, one minute you are berating your ex the next to are telling him that everything is okay and he should feel fine about going.
  2. Donít let your child think you are lonely or sad when they go to the other parent. Children donít want their parents to be upset and might react thinking they are saving you some despair.
  3. Make sure that at both places the child has his or her own space. It may be tough to have to spend time at one parentís house if the setup is drastically different. They may need a place to go for quiet time, and probably donít like sharing a room or sleeping space with their parent. Get creative if you have to.
  4. Schedule the switch around a neutral event. For example, one parent can drop the child off at school, a birthday party, or some other event.The other parent can pick them up. That eliminates a lot of the difficulty of the situation. Kids arenít looking at both parents and feeling like they are choosing sides.
  5. Do all of the communication with your ex-spouse yourself. Children should not be relaying messages about scheduling or child support. Your child may be trying to avoid having a conversation that should be held by adults, especially if he knows itís not going to be well received.
  6. If itís possible, spend some time together as a family. Let your child know that just because your not married anymore doesnít mean that the other parent is bad. Go to a restaurant, to a park, to a movie. Spend some time together so your child realizes itís okay to be around the other parent. Neutralize any loyalty issues by spending time together.
  7. Talk to your child.Find a book on the subject of divorce or split family living. It is bound to make your child open up and share her feelings at a more neutral time. The conversation may reveal some insight on what the issues really are. It could be as simple as there is no night-light at the other house, but they are afraid to tell you.
  8. Both parents should call the children when they are away. Reassure them that you havenít forgot them and that you are doing fine but looking forward to their return. Encourage your child to call the other parent if they want to on their own as well.
  9. The parent whom the child refuses to visit must be actively involved with them while they are there.It does not help to be working or doing other projects that make a child feel left out. The parent whom he refuses to leave, must be careful not to overdo the activities. Itís not a competition.
  10. Be encouraging and understanding. It may take time before kids have adjusted to living in two households. Encourage the child to go to the other parentís house. Be understanding if your child doesnít feel comfortable coming with you. Time, love, encouragement, and understanding will help.

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