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Recently, I received the following question from a church leader who works with single parents and children:

I have a single mom whose young children, ages three and five, have been visiting their dad for the last six weeks. They come back Saturday. Do you have any advice I can give her as they transition back into her home?”

First of all, I wish young three- and five-year-old kids didn’t have to do this, but it is the reality in our world. I do believe children deserve opportunities to get to know their other parent. Scores of little ones will be visiting their other parent for an extended length of time this summer, so we need to have some tips we can pass on to these parents.

Without knowing the children or the particulars of the situation, I believe there are several things that, in general, every children’s minister and anyone working with the child of divorce needs to know. Here are some suggestions to pass on to your single parents.

  1. If the mom had any rituals before the children left, she needs to get those going as soon as the children get to her home (e.g., a hello hug, fist-bump greeting, special goodnight song, or bedtime prayer).
  2. If she didn’t have any rituals, now is an excellent time to develop some. Start with a “hello ritual,” such as having a tea party with special teacups and some type of flavored tea. Or for little boys, a can of fruit punch while playing a silly game at the table, such as “I Spy.”
  3. Give the children time to settle into their home and routine. Keep in mind that to young children, six weeks is a long time to be gone. They may need to go into their rooms and touch their things.
  4. Do not move around furniture in the house while they are away. Especially, leave things the same in their rooms. As stated in #3, some children need to touch things upon returning. This gives them a sense that they are home. Leave everything the same until they return, and then get their help in making any changes in the environment.
  5. Do some fun, unusual things for the next couple of days. For example:
    • Go out for ice cream cones.
    • Have a picnic at the local park.
    • Eat a picnic on a quilt in the living room.
    • Go swimming at a local pool, or purchase special water toys for evening bath time. Water activities are calming for children.
    • Rent a movie, and have a movie night in mom’s bed. Don’t forget the popcorn.
  6. Don’t rush the children, but plan for extra time when leaving the house or putting the children to bed.
  7. Hold them in your lap each evening.
  8. Don’t ask the children a lot of questions about the other parent, but be ready to listen when they make comments. A response such as, “Wow, that sounds exciting,” or “Is that right?” is enough to provide a listening ear.
  9. Allow enough time for a bedtime story for each child each evening.
  10. Pray with each child before bed.