Managing a shared parenting arrangement can be difficult at the best of times, add in the difficulties and anxieties that come with the coronavirus lockdowns and things can take a quick turn for the worst.
Professor Daryl Higgins is a leading child protection expert. He is Director of the Institute of Child Protection Studies at the Australian Catholic University, and he understands the increased stress that working from home, lost income, or additional work pressures in essential occupations can put on an already difficult situation for divorced or separated parents.
“Children are resilient,” Professor Higgins reassures parents. “To thrive, they need calm reassurance from the adults around them.”
“Children are resilient, to thrive, they need calm reassurance from the adults around them.”
To help navigate this difficult time, Professor Higgins and his team have developed two new resources offering tips on how to manage shared parenting during COVID-19, aimed at child protection and family service workers as well as separated or divorced parents to support children through the crisis and help maintain a sense of physical safety and mental wellbeing.
“Helping every child have a safe harbour is always important, particularly where parents share caring responsibilities across two households due to separation or divorce,” said Professor Higgins. “We have developed this resource to help navigate the choppy waters of co-parenting during the COVID-19 crisis.”
“These resources came about through a conversation with others in the field, we realised there was a gap here and we needed to offer some support to parents dealing with this.”
So, what advice do these resources offer?
“It’s important to be open with your child about what is happening. Explain to them that these changes are not their fault. Answer any questions they have honestly and work to create and facilitate opportunities for them to speak and spend time with each parent.”
Just a few of the tips highlighted by Professor Higgins include:
1. Talk – don’t just type: Pick up the phone and talk to the other parent or try a video platform like Zoom, Skype or Facetime so you can pay attention to body language and facial expressions.
2. Acknowledge different views of risk: Many parents believe their way is the right way and fail to recognise alternatives. Consider that the parent with whom you disagree can also have the best interests of the child at heart and will not intentionally place them at harm.
3. Create new routines: Many routines have changed and may need to change again. Discuss transitions between households and prepare your children for hand-over as best as you can. Even where routines are different across houses, having stable, predictable routines is reassuring for children.
4. Practice kindness: The best lesson you can teach your kids is to model with the other parent how you would want them to treat others – their siblings, their friends, and even their future life partner.
5. Be flexible: Recognise that variations within an overall broad theme are fine. When it comes to new rules around personal hygiene, talk about different ways of achieving the same goal.
6. Seek Support before you need it! Connect with your extended family and friendship network. Parents care for their kids best when they are supported. Make time to nurture yourself and ensure your own needs are met- when they are with you, as well as making the most of time children are with the other parent to recharge.
Professor Daryl Higgins commenced as the Director of the Institute of Child Protection Studies in February 2017. His research focuses on public health approaches to protecting children, and child-safe organisational strategies. A registered psychologist, Prof Higgins has been researching child abuse impacts and prevention, family violence and family functioning for over 20 years.
To see many more invaluable tips and deeper explanations of those listed here and to check out the parent or practitioner resources and countless other valuable tools and tips from Professor Higgins and his team head to https://safeguardingchildren.acu.edu.au/