This period begins the long, usually more settled, middle years of childhood. Children have greater experience with multiple separations from parents (e.g. school, relatives, friends, sports). During this stage, children begin to:
- Develop peer and community relationships.
- Attain self-esteem as they develop personal and social skills.
- Develop empathy and a sense of right and wrong.
Early school-age children understand the concepts of time and routine. They can be more independent than their younger peers and more secure with the idea of two residences. They usually can adjust to different parenting styles. This and the next age period are typically the most flexible years of development, which permits parents to be more creative in preparing parenting plans. Using a calendar to inform and remind children of the schedules outlined in the parenting plan, along with their other activities, is very helpful, as changes can be anticipated and talked about ahead of time, easing some of the stress of transitions.
At this age, it is important to maximize frequent contact with both parents. Depending upon each family’s circumstances – for example, parenting responsibilities assumed by each parent before separation, geographical distance, parents’ work commitments, child’s activities, child’s temperament and adjustment, and level of conflict between
parents – the plan might include:
- One to three or sometimes four overnights a week with the non-residential parent with the understanding that some children still require a home base while others do well alternating or splitting weeks.
- Alternate weekends with an evening during the week. The weekend could include one, two or three overnights depending upon the level of involvement with pre-separation parenting.
- Weekday overnights so that the non-residential parent can fully participate in the child’s schooling. Research shows that children with fathers involved in their schooling perform better in school.
The child’s social activities and commitments should be given priority whenever possible.
Parents need to support the child’s participation in activities and the development of relationships outside the family. Children at the older end of this group may want to have input into the parenting plan. Although their views should be considered, parents still make the decisions. Children should be given the opportunity and privacy to call the other parent.
Parents should try to limit the number of transitions between households. It is important to maintain consistency so children can reasonably rely on being with each parent on the same day of the week. For example, children may be with one parent on Monday and Tuesday night and the other parent on Wednesday and Thursday night with weekends alternating. This will allow children to feel secure in making plans with their peers and parents to be consistent in their responsibilities for participation in their children’s activities.
Source: Planning for Shared Parenting – A Guide for Parents Living Apart. Published by the Association of Family and Conciliation Courts.