Written by Jade Lloyd

With lived experience on a blended family, Jade is the editor of The Parenting Jungle lifestyle website which seeks to support and empower parents. She has an MA in Social Work and as a dedicated advocate keeps a child centred focus at the forefront of everything she does.

Maintaining contact with both parents after separation or divorce is important for a child’s attachment and wellbeing. Co-parenting can be challenging at the best of times, but the reality of a global pandemic has made things even more complicated in shared parenting households.

The constraints of Covid-19 will mean families may decide, because of illness, working commitments, travel distance, a mutual decision in the interest of a child’s safety, etc. that traditional direct contact may not be the best option at this time.

In a time of high anxiety, children more than ever will need the reassurance of routine to help them feel safe and secure. Hard questions will be asked. The constraints of Covid-19 will mean families may decide, because of illness, working commitments, travel distance, a mutual decision in the interest of a child’s safety, etc. that traditional direct contact may not be the best option at this time. The welfare of the child(ren) is the most important factor. What works for one family may not necessarily work for another.

Finding A New Way Forward With Virtual Visitation

Parents will be concerned about how changes made to contact arrangements will impact on them and their children. The accessibility of online tools and video media offers a way to maintain regular communication and positive interaction. The first step is to decide on the best tech to use. There is the option of FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, or WhatsApp. If access to the internet is a barrier then phone calls are a sound option.

Often, the non-resident parent, feeling like their time is already limited, wants to maximize their involvement in their children’s lives. Other parents may feel it is an imposition, especially when seeking to find time in the busy routine of a child’s life. Disputes happen because both sides often have reasons for feeling the way they do.

Making the contact work requires the commitment of both adults and children. It may not always be smooth sailing. Below are some simple tips to encourage meaningful contact for children with their absent parent. Equally, contact arrangements may be in place for grandparents, siblings and other family members.

Discuss And Prepare For Contact With The Other Parent

Agreeing on the practicalities of contact is best done without a child present. Have FaceTime, Skype etc. accounts set up before calls. You do not want to be frustrated trying to connect to another parent for 15 minutes whilst your child sits beside you – they will also get bored and irritated. Have batteries charged ready so no one cuts out half way through a conversation. Consider the best place to facilitate contact, somewhere quiet, comfortable. Help your child adjust for the medium.

Finding A Routine For Contact. How Often And For How Long?

Contact timeslots need to be arranged in the best interests of the child and sometimes this may need tweaking. Parents will also have to consider working hours etc. Make timings achievable – why not start with three times a week? What is important is to keep contact consistent. Consider the child’s own wishes and the feelings if they are of an age and understanding to express such views. Schedule – do not start calling constantly in inappropriate hours but remind children they are free to talk to other parents whenever they need them and want reassurance, especially when they may be feeling afraid or confused.

The length of the call will generally be dictated by the age of the children and their attention span. Do not force things. If you had arranged with other parent to have half an hours FaceTime but your child, especially if they are younger, gets bored and wants to stop after 10 minutes, then this is OK.

How Do You Encourage Children To Feel Comfortable With Indirect Contact?

Make sure that the child is comfortable, warm, been to the toilet etc. before contact starts. Don’t set them up for disappointment by picking a time when they are hungry. Turn off the TV. Give the child space as this time is for them, not you. Be respectful of the non- resident parent’s time with the children. Do not fall into the ‘tell this to mum, show this to dad’ trap, speaking over the child to the other parent. If there are questions you need to ask, leave them until after. Perhaps sit in the next room with the door slightly ajar in case anything is needed. Make the contact via FaceTime fun for your child. Why not read a story, encourage them to discuss home learning, grab musical instruments, or play a game online? Have materials at your side prepared.

Managing A Child’s Feelings And Ending Contact.

It may be hard for a child to say goodbye. Consider giving 5- and 1-minute countdowns so they know what to expect. Children may feel happy and excited, but also confused and upset after contact because they miss absent family members. Time wise, I would suggest not having contact too close to bedtime, so your child has time to work and talk through their feelings. Listen more than you speak – answering questions will help them to open up.

If a contact is missed the child deserves an explanation – life happens but they need reassurance.

What To Do In The Case Of Parental Conflict.

If arranging contact is contentious then seek support from a third party. Contact time is not an occasion to manipulate or ask questions about the other parent. Your children are watching how you behave towards someone they love, and they are learning about relationships. Be a good example despite how you feel about your ex.

This is an especially difficult and unsettling time for those who parent apart. We hope this article may help you work together to focus on what your children need. They require love and support from both parents.

 

 

 

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