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Effective Parenting Plans Address Children's Developmental Needs

Updated on January 12, 2012

Most of the guidelines for creating an effective parenting plan advise you to consider your children’s developmental needs. Courts make decisions about custody based on what they feel is in the children’s best interest.

But what exactly are a child’s developmental needs? Once you understand some of the basic physical and emotional contributions to healthy childhood development, you can make a successful parenting plan that will enhance growth instead of hinder it.

Studies on healthy growth and development for children can give separating parents insight into what is best for children when it comes to a parenting plan. This overview highlights some of the most critical factors to help you create a parenting plan with the best chance of success.

With an effective parenting plan in place for everyone to follow, you’ll have the best chance of success in raising healthy, well-adjusted children.
With an effective parenting plan in place for everyone to follow, you’ll have the best chance of success in raising healthy, well-adjusted children. | Source

Infants (Birth to 12 months) As long as both parents are skilled in all aspects of childcare, such as diapering and feeding, infants should receive frequent, repeated contact with both parents. Stable routines are critical for infant development. Avoid keeping the infant away from the primary caregiver for more than a few hours when very young, and no more than a day for older babies. Parenting plans should allow plenty of time for both parents to participate in caring for the infant, in order to develop trust.

Toddlers (1 to 3 years) Because toddlers naturally resist transitions, make them as infrequent as you can and as smooth as possible. Minimal overnight visits work best with toddlers, especially when they are spaced apart. Toddlers can enjoy regular phone calls with the absent parent to maintain contact. Childrne at this age thrive on predictable and consistent routines, so keep similar schedules and habits between the two households.

Preschool (3 to 5 years) Visitations can be longer depending on the children’s temperament, but preschoolers still need firm boundaries on rules and behavior. Consistency is beneficial for preschoolers, as is parental guidance for independence on things like dressing themselves and small chores. Avoid keeping preschoolers away from a parent for more than a few days, and continue with regular phone contact for the absent parent.

Early School (5 to 9) Outside activities take up more of the early school child’s time, such as for sports or music. Parents must be extra flexible to accommodate the increased social interaction. Your parenting plan should allow for your child to explore these options. Balance between school, play and family time is critical for early school children. Increasing self-awareness and independence means they can have more frequent overnights as long as ­­­­­­­school and homework are not at risk.

Pre-teen (8 to 12) Meaningful contact with both parents is sometimes more important than frequency at this age. Friends and extracurricular activities remain important for healthy social development. Pre-teens can handle a variety of parenting plans and schedules as long as there is structure and consistency. Overnights work when transfers are highly organized and efficient, especially on school nights. House rules about chores, discipline and boundaries should be consistent and parents may note that pre-teens have opinions on what is working as far as scheduling.

Children are generally better off when they have two parents actively participating in their lives, regardless of whether those parents are together.
Children are generally better off when they have two parents actively participating in their lives, regardless of whether those parents are together. | Source

Early Teen (13 to 15) As early teens grow even more independent, they can handle a range of schedules and parenting plans. Parental support and stability are important for the often turbulent adolescent years. Frequent communication with both parents is important and parents need to keep each other informed about their children’s activities. Children need time for socializing, whether it is structured or unstructured, and may desire longer stays with each parent to establish a home base in their busy lives. 

Late Teen (16 to 18) The parenting plan becomes more of a three-way decision process as late teens should be consulted about key aspects of the parenting plan. Jobs, dating, friends, extracurricular activities and increased school participation make a late teen’s life very busy, so parents must ensure that they are giving solid communication and constant support. Meaningful family time is still important, as teenagers still need guidance and input from caring parents.

Because children grow and change, your parenting plan should be revised over the years to meet their developmental needs. Plan regular intervals where you and the other parent can discuss which parts of the parenting plan are working and which areas are no longer effective.

It helps to keep a parenting journal to track the day-to-day and week-to-week issues that arise. Use custody software like Custody X Change, which comes with a simple parenting journal feature that you can print out into a report. A parenting journal can be invaluable when it comes to assessing how the parenting plan works.


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