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Summer Visitation: Tips for a Stress-Free Visit for Everyone

Children, teens, custodial and noncustodial parents and stepparents – with a summer visitation trip on the horizon, both the kids and adults involved may feel a spectrum of emotions. When kids spend extended time with their noncustodial parent, everyone must shift from their regular daily routines and structures, which can be a difficult adjustment. Other emotional challenges for everyone may also be involved.

Whether it’s the first summer visitation or another of many, each summer brings new changes and potential challenges. If the parents’ separation is recent, the situation may be tense, and the new routine is a big challenge for everyone to adjust to. Even if your family has been doing summer visitations for some time, each year is different. New people may be involved, such as partners, stepparents, stepfamilies or half-siblings. One or both households may have moved to a new location or home. People can also change over a year, especially kids as they grow, and relationships may have shifted.

The best way to ensure a successful, memorable and fun-filled visit and reduce anxieties for everyone is to work together to plan, prepare and create a positive environment around the visitation.

Children may feel a multitude of emotions about spending summer visitation with their noncustodial parent. They may feel bad about leaving their other parent behind, not want to spend time away from friends, pets, other siblings or family members, or just miss the familiarity of their primary room and possessions. Kids may also worry about spending time with other people living in the noncustodial home, particularly if kids don’t know those individuals well. Different households also have different rules, routines and expectations, which may cause conflict or require adjusting to. The following can help reduce kids’ anxieties and provide them with a more positive experience.

  • Maintain the relationship between kids and the noncustodial parent during physical separations. Stay in touch consistently through text, phone calls, video chats, and shorter visits when possible. That way, everyone feels secure in their connection. Include stepparents and step or half-siblings to build positive relationships.
  • Involve kids in planning the visit. A visual calendar may be helpful, especially for younger kids. Talk to them about the itinerary and expectations and routines in the other household.
  • Try to coordinate with the other parent to keep consistencies where possible to reduce culture shock for the kids.
  • Give kids an opportunity to safely voice their feelings about the visit before, during, and after – while helping them see positives in the situation.
  • Children will probably experience homesickness. Talk to them about this ahead of time, so they expect it and know it’s normal. Also, make a plan, so they know what to do when they feel homesick. Allow kids to take some comfort items or pictures with them and plan regular calls into the schedule.

Allow kids to take some comfort items or pictures with them and plan regular calls into the schedule.

Custodial Parents may feel more negative emotions like stress, anxiety, or sadness about their kids leaving for an extended period. As the custodial parent, you may be worried about your kids or not look forward to missing them while they’re gone.

  • Recognize your emotions, both positive and negative, and acknowledge them as valid. But try to avoid inflicting negative feelings, like guilt, onto your children.
  • Make plans for yourself, so you have things to look forward to and ways to stay busy.
  • Take advantage of extra time to focus on your relationship with yourself, friends, partner, or other children.
  • Help your kids pack to ensure they have everything they need. Don’t forget essential items like medications, glasses, retainers, and other personal care items.
  • Keep a record of important information about your children to share with their other parent. Not just health or medical information, but any other struggles or things going on with the child or their life that would be helpful for the other parent to know.
  • Have a copy of the itinerary and contact information so you can reach your ex or children in an emergency.

Noncustodial parents may feel excited and apprehensive about the upcoming visit and worry about everything going smoothly and making sure their kids enjoy their stay.

  • Have a special room or space for your kids when they visit and either prepare it for them with some of the things they like or allow them to choose decorations or special sheets to help them feel at home.
  • Focus on quality time with your kids over expensive or extravagant gifts or experiences. Those may be exciting at the moment, but strengthening your relationship through connection and undivided attention will make for a lasting bond.
  • Find ways to connect with your children and participate in their interests or those that you share to help your kids feel seen, heard, and valued.
  • Expect an adjustment period and big emotions from your kids when they arrive. Understand it’s likely not about you, but instead trying to sort out and deal with their own complicated feelings.
  • Prepare any other children living in your house, stepchildren, or ones with a new partner, and support them in connecting with your children without forcing it. Try to still make time for them and include them, so they don’t resent the visiting children for taking your attention.
  • Ensure you have all the vital information about your children’s health and medical needs in case of an emergency.

Kids have more difficulty understanding and regulating complicated emotions in family dynamics.

Stepparents may be unsure how to prepare for summer visitation with their stepchild and worry it might be difficult if the relationship is new or tense. Your stepkids may see you as an interloper in their relationship with their parent and resent you for that.

  • If the relationship is challenging, try not to take it personally. Kids have more difficulty understanding and regulating complicated emotions in family dynamics. They may feel more comfortable taking their frustrations out on you instead of their parents.
  • Remember that you chose to be with someone who has children. Find things that you love about your partner in their children and ways to connect with them or their interests.
  • Be open to creating a relationship with your stepchildren, but don’t force it. They may take a while to warm up to someone new, especially if they’re jealous of your relationship or time with their parent.
  • Suggest opportunities for your partner and their child to have special time to themselves, especially at the beginning of the visit.

When parents have a shared custody arrangement, it’s good for everyone to support children in having positive interactions and building healthy relationships with both parents as well as any stepparents. With a bit of preparation and cooperation, summer visitation can be a special part of creating a stronger bond and helping children thrive.