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Six to Eight Years
The hallmark of this period is development of peer and community relationships, a moral sense, empathy, and better self-regulation of impulses. Children develop a concept of themselves as they gain competence and master skills.
For children to develop normally, it's important during this age for the noncustodial parent to participate in the activities within the community in which the children live. At this stage, children thrive on consistent contact with friends, school, and extra-curricular activities. Although the length of time away from home can be increased for those aged six to eight, if a child is homesick, most child development experts recommend that the time away should be decreased to a tolerable level.
Nine to Twelve Years
During these years, children develop their academic, athletic, and artistic skills. They become more involved in community activity. There is an increased desire to maintain friendships and seek approval of peers, as well as growing self-awareness as they begin to evaluate their own strengths and weaknesses against the larger arena of the world.
As before, the noncustodial parent is advised to schedule visits, as much as possible, within the orbit of the child's home base. The closer children feel to the noncustodial parent, the more agreeable they will be to segments of time away from community activities and friends.
Thirteen to Eighteen Years
You Can Do It!
Teenagers often feel displaced in the wake of divorce, and the experts say that support groups of peers can often be particularly helpful. Do look to get your adolescent involved in a well-run support activity to help with the transition.
This period marks the beginning of psychological emancipation as children establish their personal identity more strongly than ever before. There is a mourning of the loss of childhood as children relinquish dependency and the protection of the family circle to venture out on their own. Kids at this age are dealing with their sexual feelings. They are also beginning to see how to work within the rules and regulations of society.
At this age, children have generally come to count on a fairly established visitation schedule and routine. Nonetheless, that may change as these teenage children seek to have input into the schedule so that it dovetails with their increasingly complex academic and social lives. It is difficult to force an adolescent into a schedule he or she did not help to create. In fact, if you are divorcing when your child is this age, don't be surprised if the judge meets with him or her to hear what he or she has to say. Many states allow a judge to consider (but not necessarily defer to) the preferences of any child over the age of 12, giving due weight to the child's individual maturity and development.
Adopt an attitude of sensitivity and flexibility when it comes to the visitation schedule you establish for your children. If your children are nearing adolescence, their social agenda will be paramount to them. Although spending time with their parents is very important (and sacred for the noncustodial parent), parents who respect their children's needs to develop a social life of their own will be helping them to grow normally.
In situations where physical custody is shared, parents should consider living within a few blocks of each other in the same town. Expecting teens with school, sports, and social lives to “commute” is unfair.