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  • Writer's pictureClaire Edwards

Mindful Parenting- Age/Development Parenting Plan

Updated: May 12, 2022

It's ideal to have such a good relationship with your co-parent that you can adjust your parenting plan based on your child's age and development. For example, when the child starts soccer practice after school, during your custodial time, it's ideal to let the other parent have the opportunity to pick up from soccer on a few days. This wasn't an issue when you had a toddler, but it's an issue for your elementary and middle school age child. Remain mindful to the growth and development of your child and it will guide you to the best parenting plan for that child.

For example, compare and contrast a 3 yr old v 13 yr old. The littles can't do their own clothes but you can toss them in the car and take them home when you need to v. The older kids can do their own clothes but have strong opinions about whose house they want to be at. The legal system can't help as much as parents would like so the parents need to learn how to pass kids back and forth in a way that is most appropriate to meet the child's needs.

When parents remain mindful to the growth and development of each individual child, it will guide them to the best parenting plan for each child. A 3 yr old is different from a 13 yr old. Psych literature offers guidance for age and development appropriate schedules for children.

Children Younger than 2 years "To be responsive to the infant’s psychological needs, the parenting schedules adopted for children younger than 2 or 3 must involve more transitions, rather than fewer, to ensure the continuity of both relationships and the child’s security and comfort during a time of great change. The ideal situation is one in which infants and toddlers have opportunities to interact with both parents every day or every other day in a variety of functional contexts (feeding, play, discipline, basic care, limit setting, putting to bed, etc.). To minimize the deleterious impact of extended separations from either parent, there should be more frequent transitions than would perhaps be desirable with older children. As children reach age 2, their ability to tolerate longer separations increases, so most toddlers can manage 2 consecutive overnights with each parent without stress. Schedules involving alternating longer blocks of time, such as 5 to 7 days, should be avoided, as children this age still become fretful and uncomfortable when separated from either parent too long." (Kelly and Lamb)

Toddlers- Evening and Overnight "The evening and overnight periods (like extended days with nap times) with nonresidential parents are especially important psychologically not only for infants but for toddlers and young children as well. Evening and overnight periods provide opportunities for crucial social interactions and nurturing activities, including bathing, soothing hurts and anxieties, bedtime rituals, comforting in the middle of the night, and the reassurance and security of snuggling in the morning after awakening, that 1- to 2-hour visits cannot provide. These everyday activities promote and maintain trust and confidence in the parents while deepening and strengthening child-parent attachments." (Kelly and Lamb)

Other Important Factors This article does not address each child's temperament, social experience, and the presence of older or younger siblings. These are are all important factors, but it's also good to have a discussion that removes these factors to highlight how/why age/development affects children. Next is period of separation based on age:

Infants- "Frequency" of contact with each parent "Aside from their very immature cognitive capacities, infants have no sense of time to help them understand separations, although their ability to tolerate longer separations from attachment figures increases with age. The goal of any access schedule should be to avoid long separations from both parents to minimize separation anxiety and to have sufficiently frequent and broad contact with each parent to keep the infant secure, trusting, and comfortable in each relationship." (Kelly and Lamb)

Preschool- "Frequency" of contact with each parent "Preschool children can tolerate lengthier separations than toddlers can, and many are comfortable with extended weekends in each parent’s home as well as overnights during the week. In general, however, most preschool children become stressed and unnecessarily overburdened by separations from either parent that last more than 3 or 4 days. The exception might be planned vacations, in which parents and siblings are fully available to engage preschool children in novel, stimulating, and pleasurable activities. Even so, most parents would be advised to limit vacations at this age to 7 days and to schedule several vacations rather than one single lengthy vacation." (Kelly and Lamb)

School-Age- "Frequency" of contact with each parent "When children reach school age, they have significantly more autonomy and greatly increased cognitive, emotional, and time-keeping abilities, so the duration of separations from both parents becomes less critical. Even so, before the age of 7, and often thereafter, most youngsters still enjoy reunions during the week with each parent rather than extended periods without contact. By 7 or 8 years of age, most youngsters can manage 5- to 7-day separations from parents as part of their regular schedules and 2-week vacations with each parent. Court orders for young children that reflect children’s increasing ability to tolerate lengthier separations by building age-based and stepwise increases into vacation schedules are most responsive to children’s best interests." (Kelly and Lamb)

! IMPORTANT ! "...children are enriched by regular, diverse, and appropriate interactions with two involved and emotionally supportive parents, and this is no less true of school-age children as they journey toward adolescence. Regardless of who has been the primary caretaker, therefore, children benefit from the extensive contact with both parents that fosters meaningful father-child and mother-child relationships." (Kelly and Lamb)

Emotional support of your child is key! This is everything! This is how to make your relationship with your child amazing despite whatever circumstances you and your ex are facing!

What about Teenagers!? “Social science scholars highlight that as children progress into their adolescent years, they face a new social environment, become aware of their sexuality, seek independence and become self-absorbed, develop a greater need for stability, and experience a natural separation from their parents.” (Lux) - “Children face a new social environment in adolescence as they go from “the relatively calm haven that elementary school has become to the more exciting and as yet unmastered worlds of junior high and high school.” Adapting to a new social environment is often more difficult in postdivorce context, as the young teen attempts to reconcile “two sets of significant changes in their lives: those that normally arise in this period of development, and those accompanying [post-divorce life].” In addition, the new environment makes it particularly important for adolescents to maintain friendships, which may be difficult where the custody arrangement requires them to move between two households.” (Lux)

Teenagers are Developing their Identity “After the age of thirteen, children become more aware of their bodies and their sexuality. They begin to spend time with members of the opposite sex and bridge into the new social norm of romantic relationships. In the postdivorce context, this often leads adolescents to form a preference for more time with the parent of the same sex, suggesting that there may be a reason to shift the time allocations of custody between parents.” (Lux) “Adolescents attempt to form their own identity and seek independence from their parents which leads them to perceive themselves as the center of attention, making it emotionally difficult for young teens to move back and forth between two parents’ households in custody arrangement” (Lux)

Teenagers need more stability from their parents “Despite their often-expressed preferences to the contrary, adolescents develop a greater need for stability from their parents as they grow. In fact, adolescents need more “emotional support, love, and firm guidance” from their parents while they seek to establish their independence. This can be especially difficult to accommodate in the postdivorce context, because of the financial, social, and emotional stresses on parents; divorced parents generally have less time to parent or support their young teens, leaving the increased need for stability unmet. The need for greater stability is also relevant to adolescents’ postdivorce residential arrangements. Adolescents seek stability by preferring “to have one house as a headquarters, even if they previously lived comfortably in joint physical custody.” A headquarters provides the stability they need to accommodate their busier schedules and desire for independence, and maintain friendships close to home. " (Lux)

Mindful parents will expect and plan for change “If a custody arrangement was expected to adapt over the years, a parent’s expectations might be better informed. in other words, requiring arrangements to change as the years go by may force the parents to look at their adolescent’s developmental changes and understand that separation is part of development and not the divorce” (Lux) “Parents should expect and plan for change. A good parenting plan ensures adaptability of arrangements by instilling flexibility at the time of divorce. As the child grows into his or her adolescent years, the schedules of each parent and the young teen will need to be integrated. Parents should expect that complex schedules will create difficulties for these young teens and adjust accordingly.” (Lux)


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