Parenting Plans for Young Children and The Benefit of Shared Co-parenting

 Is Spending the Night in Different Homes Bad for Littles?

Important co-parenting decisions are made during separation and divorce and when developing a parenting plan for very young children (Infant and Toddler age). One of the most crucial decisions to support the emotional health of young children is how much time a child spends with each parent. In the past the “maternal instinct” was often a deciding factor for how to split time between parents, especially when younger children were involved. 

However, we now know that (in the absence of abuse or other extenuating circumstances), not only is each parent capable of caring for their child, but children benefit from caregiving involvement of both parents.  This includes overnights with the parent who previously was not the primary caregiver (in many families it is the father).  Previously, literature has supported that children ages 5 and under should not have overnights with both parents, which is not supported by current research.1


Why Does Shared Parenting Time Matter Early in Life?

If good development does not inherently require the child sleep in the same home each day, how frequently should they overnight with each parent? This is an important question that involves many factors. But remember that the best Parenting Plan is not the end goal. The end goal is what the Plan facilitates: secure attachment with all parents and caregivers.

“Secure attachment” is different than “bonding.” Bonding refers to how the parent perceives their relationship with the child. Secure attachment relates to the child’s emotional connection to the parent from birth and throughout childhood.

“Children need something more than love and caregiving in order for their brains and nervous systems to develop in the best way possible. Children need to be able to engage in a nonverbal emotional exchange with their primary caretaker in a way that communicates their needs and makes them feel understood, secure, and balanced. Children who feel emotionally disconnected from their primary caregiver are likely to feel confused, misunderstood, and insecure, no matter how much they’re loved.” 2

Further, solid emotional connections with both caregivers are a strong predictor of better outcomes in social, emotional, and cognitive development throughout life.


Transitioning Between Homes

Smooth transitions are very important with everyone involved in shared parenting! Think of a relay race: passing the baton smoothly makes everything else go better.


Here are some tips for transitioning young children between parents:

 1.Take care of yourself. Young children especially rely on parents for good and safe decisions. They also take emotional cues from adults and mirror their reactions. Divorce and co-parenting are challenging, so make sure you have tools to handle stress, get adequate sleep, etc.

2. Create and keep routines. Routines help young children learn and know what to expect next. Consistent routines help build security and strong relationships.

3. Communicate with the co-parent. All co-parenting needs good communication, but young children have unique requirements. Reaching agreement on topics like breastfeeding, toilet training, bedtimes, and discipline helps reduce stress for everyone. 

Young children are growing and developing quickly! Changing households can be challenging for everyone, but divorce does not remove the child’s need for ongoing involvement with both parents without long separations. 3



1 Warshak, R. A. (2014). Social science and parenting plans for young children: A consensus report.  Psychology, Public Policy, and Law, 20(1), 46–67.  (As cited by Child and Family Blog. )

 2 Segal, J., Glenn, M. Robinson, L. (2020). What is secure attachment and bonding?

 3 Hunter, J., Trussell, J.  M. Robinson, L. Helping infants and toddlers adjust to divorce.


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