Parenting Plan for 1 – 3 year olds

Parenting plans are tricky businesses to attend to at the best of times.  But when the parents are  engaged in a high conflict situation then this makes creating and agreeing on a parenting plan even more difficult.

However, whatever your current situation, it is important to come to an agreement that not only suits you and your ex partner but also one that is age appropriate for your little one(s).

What a 2 year old needs in terms of care is different from what a 10 year old needs.  Of course the basics are the same namely love and attention, but their worlds and the way they view it and interact with it is not the same.

Below you will find some information that I hope will help you and your ex-partner reach an age appropriate parenting plan for children aged 1 – 3 years.


Please note that these are guidelines only as children within the same age group can differ in various ways including in their ability to cope with difficult situations and adjust to changes.

Parenting Plan for your 1 – 3 year old

Where are they developmentally?


  • They are becoming more aware of the world around them in many ways including people, objects, limits and boundaries and are really trying to make sense of the world


  • It’s all about exploration and repetition so they will repeat certain actions several times before moving on to the next e.g. going up and down steps


  • Now beginning to create mental representations of objects in his/her life e.g. in pretend play he/she pretends to be drinking from a cup whereas the object in hand is a shoe


  • They are now reaching the final stage of understanding that people and objects continue to exist even when they are out of view as they now can hold mental representations of them.  This is important if they are to see themselves as separate beings from their main caregiver and help them manage separation anxiety as they continue to grow



  • Can be attached to several caregivers not just parents and this includes grandparents, nannies, extended families and friends


  • Resistance to change is normal so they might be find it difficult each time they need to move between homes so parents really need to treat this time as carefully as possible. A common misinterpretation of this type of situation is that the child must be unhappy in the other parent’s home while in fact, it’s the shifting of gears that they just don’t want.


  • Continuous conflict can build up anxiety, which in turn can affect the way they sleep, eat and behave.  If there has been an argument for instance during the exchange between the parents, then you may find your child is takes a while to settle down again which can then be difficult for the parent


  • Although they maybe trying to develop their independence skills, they may still be clingy and resist separation and change
  • Predictable and regularly scheduled routines help the child develop a sense of security and manage fears they may have


Parenting Plan- What to keep in mind 

Best plan for a child of this age is:

  • One where change and transitioning between homes is kept to a minimum as much as possible.  Too much chopping and changing can be very unsettling


  • One that allows contact with the each parent at regular and predictable intervals


  • One that allows the child to remain in one home for a max of 4 consecutive days – if it needs to be more due to work commitments for instance, then the “missing” parent is able to make contact with the child during his/her stay away, physical contact would be best otherwise there’s always Skype


  • One that is as predictable and consistent as possible.  This helps them understand their environment better, create a sense of security and manage their fears and anxieties


  • One that provides him/her with a safe world to explore and play and be with other children, where they can learn that there is a safe world out there with of without his parents e.g a crèche


  •  If overnights are agreed, they don’t necessarily need to be consecutive but it would be good if they are consistent.  If one parent hasn’t had the opportunity to spend enough time caring for the child alone, maybe due to long working hours, then introduce overnight stays gradually i.e. after the separation and by extending number of hours that the non-custodial parent spends with his/her child until they feel he/she is ready for overnight stays


  • If high conflict situation and arguments are likely during exchange, then find someone else to help out with transitions between homes, do it in a public place or from the crèche/childminder or school


  • At this age they are happy to spend time with various caregivers including grandparents, nannies and other family friends as long as the routine is the same and doesn’t mean spending time in different homes and places over the week


  • Remember to allow them to take their favourite objects with them as well as other objects from one home to another as this allows for continuity which helps in making the transition smoother


  • Parents could help the child know what is happening or where they will be when by creating a visual aid for them e.g. by using a calendar and colouring which days he/she is with daddy and which he/she is with mummy in different colours

Hope that helps!

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