Freedom Law

Grief: The Impact of Grief on Successful Co-Parenting

Grief: The Impact of Grief on Successful Co-Parenting

Most parents want to co-parent successfully and strive to conduct themselves in ways that would include them in the first two post-divorce relationship categories. What gets in the way?

The Grieving Process

Just as with death, when a relationship ends there is a grieving process. This natural response to loss often contributes significantly to difficulties in co-parenting. It takes no less than two years to bring the grieving process regarding the break up of the relationship to a resolution. This timeline is founded on the notion that a person needs to live through the first year after the break up with all its holidays and occasions, as he or she moves away from the established patterns of the marital relationship. The second year permits the creation of new patterns. It should not be assumed that a new relationship cannot be established during the grieving period. It is just that unresolved issues from the prior relationship often interfere with the new relationship. Ghosts of the previous relationship frequently intrude, unconsciously, into the dynamics of a new relationship and often contribute to its problems. Frequently, the grief process takes much longer than two years. One theory suggests that the grieving process can take as long as one- third to one-half the length of the relationship that just ended.

The grieving process has many theoretical models. One stage-theory that is very useful was developed by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.[10] The first stage is the stage of denial – the disbelief that this is actually happening. The second stage is the stage of anger. This can take many forms, which include conflict, rage, acting out and redefining the former partner in as negative a light as possible.

Johnston[11] has termed this tendency the “negative reconstruction of the spousal identity.” In this phenomenon, all the attributes that initially attracted one to the former partner are now attributes that are repulsive. It is a way for a spouse to emotionally disengage. As examples: “He is such a good provider,” becomes “He is such a workaholic.” “She is such a free spirit,” becomes “She is such a flake.” “He is so well informed,” becomes, “He is so opinionated.” Sound familiar?

The third stage, of grieving, according to Kubler-Ross, involves remorse or bargaining. In this stage, one is frightened about really losing the other. Promises and deals are made that positive changes will happen if only they can get back together.

The fourth stage is the phase of depression. There is deep pain and sadness about the loss of the dreams, fantasies, expectations, and hopes.

Finally, the last stage, acceptance, is one which involves moving on in life. It has been our experience that you know you have reached the acceptance stage when someone, inquiring about your relationship, asks, “What happened?” And, your response, given in less than ten seconds and void of emotional charge, is “We just went our separate ways.”

Impact on Relationship Dynamics

It is often the case that one parent is at a more functional level than is the other with regard to co-parenting. If this is the situation, then it is more effective for the parent who is at the more functional level to remain rational and empathic toward the other parent. If the more functional parent is drawn to a lower level of functionality, there will be more chaos and disruption, not only for that parent, but, more importantly, for the child. The higher functioning parent would be better off learning effective negotiating skills for dealing with an individual who prefers to be in a competitive rather than collaborative negotiating arena. Do not expect the separation or divorce to magically change the pattern of the other party from how it was during the marriage to being more effective in resolving problems. Without active new learning, it is unusual for such patterns to change on its own. Individual counselling and classes in communication skills are productive resources for the higher functioning parent.

Impact on The Individual’s Ability To “Move On” 

There is yet another concept to address that impacts the ability to co-parent. The emotional process of divorce for one partner is not generally on the same timeline as it is for the other partner. Typically, one of the partners becomes aware of being unhappy in the relationship. That individual may request the other to attend marital counselling in hopes of getting the other partner to change and make the relationship “right.” The other partner may respond with something like, “I don’t have a problem. You have a problem. You go to counselling. I am very happy just the way things are.”

The person attempting to seek professional help is already well into the process of emotional detachment. The less effort exerted by the other partner, the more such detachment occurs. The interesting aspect here is that the first party experiences interactions with the spouse as a constant, daily reality check regarding the unhappy experience. This validates the perception that the relationship is no longer functional. Typically, this internal process of detachment goes on for about a year or two before the decision to separate is made. Once the decision is made to leave the relationship, there typically is little or no chance of reclaiming the relationship. And, on the day that the first partner announces that the relationship is over, the grieving process for the second party begins. It is this timeline disparity that creates turmoil between the couple.

At that point, the person who is being left says, “Okay, let’s go to counselling and fix this!” Frequently, the intent of such a request is to have the counsellor tell the leaving party that he or she is in error and should stay and work it out. When this does not happen as hoped, the partner who is left begins the emotional process of divorce. Once separated, the grieving process of the person who was left is somewhat different and more difficult than that of the one who left. Now, the only base of perception is the memory of the relationship, not the reality of the day-to-day experience. And, those memories can rapidly become grossly distorted. Once again, individual counselling for the person being left can be of tremendous help in providing support, and can be a reality check for clearer thinking and more appropriate planning.

Ex-partners: – how would you describe yours?

Ex-partners: – how would you describe yours?


Ahrons (1983) has conceptualised five categories of post-divorce spousal relationships: Perfect Pals, Cooperative Colleagues, Angry Associates, Fiery Foes, and Dissolved Duos. The first two are appropriately referred to as functional co-parenting. The next two are dysfunctional relationships that can manage “parallel parenting” at best. And, the last category, Dissolved Duos, sadly for the children, consists of 100% solo parenting.

Perfect pals

Perfect Pals are best friends who were married and have made a mutual decision to go their separate ways. These parents like one another. They usually do all their own legal work and establish a parenting plan that is in the “best interests of the child.” They are flexible and have respect for each other, both as co-parents and as friends. These are the individuals who will be able to celebrate holidays together. Even after remarriage to others, they may, for example, all celebrate birthday dinner together. When graduation comes, they might purchase one present together for their child and sit together at the ceremony.

Cooperative colleagues

While still within the co-parenting category, Cooperative Colleagues have a difficult time when they separate. They most likely have legal representation or require a third party to assist in finalising plans of the marital settlement. Most often these people did not make a mutual decision to separate. They still do not necessarily like each other, but they respect one another as parents. They can separate their parenting from their partnering issues. They support the child’s involvement in each other’s lives and in the lives of the extended families. They are generally courteous to each other. A few times a year, they may have a disagreement that initially will require third party intervention, but they are able to resolve such disputes outside of Court.

Eventually, cooperative colleagues figure out how to avoid getting caught up in the drama of the former partner. At graduation, for example, they may or may not sit together. Either way, they are cordial and not overtly hostile. They will likely feel more comfortable purchasing separate gifts for their child and one might take the graduate to dinner while the other takes him or her to breakfast. These people have let go of each other. They permit and support the child having a relationship with the other parent. As years move on, each is less threatened by the other. The child has two houses and two families under one large conceptual family umbrella.

Now, we move into the more dysfunctional post-divorce relationship categories. Although many still refer to this as co-parenting, I suggest the use of the more apt term, “parallel parenting,” to describe these dynamics.

Angry Associates

Angry Associates do not know how to emotionally disengage from each other. They are “compatible combatants.”[9] They fight well together and thus remain in a destructive relationship from which at least one of the parties was truly attempting to leave. At least one of the partners gets stuck in the emotional process of divorce and cannot move on with life. This can go on for years or, perhaps, a lifetime. These parents are in a persistent and continual power struggle with one another. They regularly require third party intervention (mediators, lawyers, arbitrators, and judges). They do not respect each other as parents, nor as people. Their child becomes a pawn in this unrelenting conflict and his or her childhood is sacrificed to the immaturity of the parents. These are the parents who do not encourage the child to share time with the other parent. Involvement with extended family members is not often a real possibility for the child.

Certainly, if looks could cause harm, injury would happen, (and occasionally does) between these parents. They will definitely choose not to sit near one another at any of their child’s events. More than likely, the parent responsible for the child on graduation day will not encourage the child to acknowledge the other parent, in any way. These parents do not understand that, although they have separated or divorced, the child does not choose to divorce either parent. Unfortunately, these parents see things in black and white, win/loose, and either/or. There is no gray, no win-win in their consciousness. This child will grow up walking on eggshells and scanning the environment to figure out the “right” thing to say and do. The child’s base of operation is one of living in a “war zone.” This child cannot be the loving center of his/her parents’ world. This child exists as the “spoils of war.”

Fiery Foes 

The next relationship category, called the Fiery Foes, is one in which the dynamics of the dysfunctional relationship further exacerbate the intensity of the dissolution process. These parents have such disdain for one another that, for example, one of the parents cannot even attend the child’s graduation. Not only does each parent dislike the other, but the child and the eventual grandchild will have to carry the anger down through the generations as to how awful the other parent was as a parent, partner, and yes, human being. The therapist of this child can do nothing more than comfort the child during the therapy sessions. For, after these sessions, the child must return to the family war. The children of these parents suffer psychopathology of the worst order, distress that will assure them of the need for life-long psychotherapy. Often the risks (both physical and emotional) to the child of on-going efforts by their parents at co-parenting are too great. Decisive and sometimes dramatic Court intervention is a virtual necessity with Fiery Foes.

Dissolved Duos 

The final category is Dissolved Duos. These parents have reached such an extreme point of pain that one of the parents drops out of the child’s life entirely. The parent typically moves out of state and begins a new family, often never even telling the new spouse that there had ever been another family. This parent would not have even known that their child had graduated. Becoming the departing of the Dissolved Duo is one way to disengage from the emotional pain of divorce, but the price that the child pays in being abandoned is huge.

Separated parenting: co-parenting and parallel parenting

Separated parenting: co-parenting and parallel parenting

Definitions of terms

The Australian family law system has the best interests of the child as the fundamental principal when working out what parenting arrangements should be put in place after parents have separated. [2]

In dealing with a former partner in the joint task of raising children after separation and/or divorce, it is very important, and clearly very challenging to SEPARATE THE PARENTING ISSUES FROM LEFTOVER PARTNERING ISSUES.

So how do former partners jointly parent their children? And what is co-parenting? Understanding the differing types of parenting orders available under the Family Law Act (Cth) 1975 assists with an understanding of a concept of co-parenting. It is also useful to understand the legal terminology used in Australia compared to the popular terminology often used incorrectly or inappropriately.

Parental responsibility (Guardianship)

Guardianship is a common expression designation of parental authority to make major decisions regarding the health, education, and welfare of the child. Some examples of such issues that need decisions would be as follows: Does the child need braces? What school will the child attend? What religion will the child practice? The typical options for guardianship were either sole or joint guardianship. A parent with sole guardianship had authority to make all major decisions about the child. Parents with joint guardianship shared the authority to make major decisions about their child.

Under the FAMILY LAW ACT the proper terminology is SHARED PARENTAL RESPONSIBILITY. This requires parents to make joint decisions about major long-term issues in relation to a child. [3] Major long-term decisions are defined in section 4 to include decisions about education, religious/cultural upbringing, health, names and living arrangements that would otherwise make it significantly difficult for a child to spend time with a parent.

Under the Family Law Act a Court may allocate parental responsibility for a child between the parents in different ways (i.e. one parent may be solely responsible for decisions concerning religious upbringing). The Court can also make orders about any aspect of the care, welfare or development of a child. These are often referred to as “specific issues” orders. [4]

Lives/ resides with (Custody)

The concept of physical custody designates the amount of time a child shares with each parent. The typical options are sole custody or joint custody. A parent with sole custody has responsibility for the child the significant majority of the time. Parents with joint custody share responsibility for the child’s time within a more equitable schedule.

In Australia the type of order the court makes is who “A CHILD IS TO LIVE” otherwise referred to as a “lives with” order. [5]

Any and all time-sharing plans should be based on the very broad standard of “the best interests of the child.” It should take into consideration the child’s developmental needs.

Spend Time With (Access/Contact/Visitation)

Another term to define is visitation. This is generally considered to be the time that the child shares with the non-custodial parent.

Under the Family Law Act, the parenting order a court makes is THE TIME A CHILD SPENDS WITH the other parent.[6]

Under this umbrella a court can also make COMMUNICATION orders. This can be made in favour of either the so-called live with (custodial) parent or the time with (contact) parent.

Notice these bracketed terms -custody, visitation. They sound like the child is a piece of property, or a prisoner. In 2006 the Commonwealth Government made sweeping changes to the Family Law Act particularly in the terminology used for parenting orders.

Rather than viewing the separated family arrangements in traditional legal terms, it was recognised that the focus be more from the psychological understanding of a child. We know that, with rare exceptions, it is in the child’s best interest to have regular and continuing contact with both parents. And, with very young children (under the age of 4 or 5), it is important if at all possible to have frequent contact with each parent. This is because of their very limited memory, which after only several days fades the image of the missing parent. This all is to say the child’s rights have to supersede the parent’s rights.

In the Australian family law system it is vital for parents to understand that nowhere is there any reference to any form of parental rights. PARENTS DO NOT HAVE ANY RIGHTS they have duties and obligations. The focus under the Family Law Act is upon THE CHILD’S RIGHTS. These rights are to have (a) the benefit of both their parents having a meaningful involvement in their lives, (b) protection from harm, (c) proper parenting and (d) their parents discharge their parental duties and obligations to them.

It is the child’s right to know and be cared for by both of their parents regardless of separation and to spend time on a regular basis with both parents.[7] It is the parent’s obligation and responsibility to be available and to care for the child.

It should be clearly understood that an order that a child lives with one parent has no additional role or obligation (other than for definition purposes) that one that specifies that a child spends time with the other parent. Indeed, there is no reason why an order cannot specify a child lives with one period for a period of each week/fortnight and lives with the other parent at all other times even if the living arrangement is not equal.

Parenting plan

Less competitive or “fighting words” and more collaborative terminology would be helpful in lowering the stress of an already difficult situation. For example, rather than using the terms “custody” and “visitation,” I suggest using the more emotionally neutral term, “parenting plan.” This term contains the more normalized concepts of a child sharing time with or living with each parent at different times. In a written parenting plan, sentences begin with, “The child will share time with (or, live with) each parent according to the following schedule:” rather than, “The Father has visitation on alternate weekends.” Even if the child sees one parent only once a year for a few days, the child is still sharing time and living with that parent during that time period.

PARENTING PLANS are the encouraged method of working out a child’s living arrangements after separation. The Family Law Act endorses as a child’s right that their parents should agree about future parenting arrangements (as opposed to litigating the arrangements in court). [8]

The parenting or time-sharing plan should take into consideration what that child has become accustomed to, regarding the parenting style and arrangement during the time of the intact relationship. This is critical for the adjustment and stability of the child during the often chaotic and stressful period following the break up. If, during the relationship, there had been a primary parent carrying out the major responsibility in time and effort, then such should remain the initial basis of a parenting plan. It need not remain as such forever, but it should begin with the settled arrangements from the child’s view, and be modified gradually over time. It is important to understand that no agreement is written in stone. All parenting plans are negotiable, as various needs arise that necessitate modification of the plan.

A parenting plan is an informal agreement between parents. Parents who seek enforceable arrangements – e.g. supervision requirements; are encouraged to obtain court orders. These can be obtained by consent however an application needs to be lodged with a court. That is not to say pursuing a parenting plan is not very useful particularly for documenting the parent’s intentions for arrangements or to establish a short term or interim arrangement pending further work with dispute resolution or family therapy.

If a child is to be with one parent significantly more of the time than with the other parent (for example, when the two parents live a considerable distance from one another), I suggest replacing the traditional term of “custodial parent” with the less emotionally charged concept of “the child’s primary residence” and “the child’s secondary residence.” Of course, if the child shares time fairly equitably between the parents, then there is no need to designate either parent’s residence with such title.


Technically, co-parenting exists with any parenting arrangement, regardless of its formal designation. In whatever way each parent is involved in raising the child, the parents co-parent. Most effective co-parenting arrangements contain the following characteristic dynamics between the parents: cooperation, communication, compromise, and consistency. These dynamics often grow over time and typically take a period of years to evolve effectively.


While meaningful co-parenting can only be carried out by parents in a working, functional, parental relationship, parallel parenting is more characteristic of parents in a dysfunctional relationship dynamic. Parallel parenting manifests when there is an insufficient degree of cooperation, communication, compromise, or consistency to carry out co-parenting. Frequently, in the beginning stages of a separation or divorce, parallel parenting may exist as a result of the lack of trust and sense of betrayal. While most parents are able to work through these dynamics to establish a more cooperative relationship, some parents are not and they remain in a power struggle that affects all negotiations between them. Certainly, when post-divorce parenting arrangements are Court-ordered in an adversarial court battle, such on-going patterns are common.

Children in parallel parenting arrangements often experience heightened anxiety during phone calls from the other parent and during transfers between parents. This anxiety results from the child’s awareness of the great potential for parental fights to ensue at these times. It is important to protect the children from this potential for parental conflict to erupt. Minimising verbal and physical contact between the parents can help. It is often useful to utilise written communication (letters, faxes, e-mail, etc.), or a third party, for communication purposes.

Separation impact on children of divorce

Separation impact on children of divorce

Co Parenting*

A successful separation is one in which the parents separate from each other but do not require the child to separate from one of the parents, either as a result of parental conflict or by one parent not being available to the child.

The following quote nicely summarises this knowledge:

The current research examining the effects of divorce on children concludes that a constructive divorce in a family with children requires minimizing the psychological injury to children through continued relationships with both parents and an atmosphere of support and cooperation between the parents.[1]

Thus, it is a well-established fact that a child experiencing the dissolution of the family structure will do better if the parents are able to get along and reduce trauma in an already traumatic experience. Co-parenting can be a viable option when it is implemented by parents who want it to work because they understand that the child’s needs supersede their own self-interest, and it can be successful and rewarding for both the child and the parents.

Impact of separation and divorce on children

There are many threatening and frightening things that happen to individuals whose relationship ends up in separation or divorce. When there are no children of the relationship, the adults can separate their lives relatively easily, albeit not without pain. For a child, however, the termination of a nuclear family is, most often, highly traumatizing. Children, who go through separation, and/or divorce, experience abandonment. Generally, this is also their primary fear. Younger children do not have the intellectual resources, or older children the emotional resources to understand this as anything other than, “I am being left by my parent!” When asked, “What do you worry about most?” They often respond with, “I am afraid I will never see one of my parents again.” When children of separation or divorce are asked, “What are your three wishes?” most will usually say something like, “I wish my Mom and Dad were back together.”

A central reason that divorce is so difficult for children is the fact that they have little life experience to understand why their parents would separate and what happens when a parent, or when both parents, leaves the family home. They frequently worry, “If ONE of my parents mysteriously left home today, who is to say that my OTHER parent won’t leave home tomorrow, and there will be nobody left to take care of me?”

Often, children are afraid to ask what will happen. They are afraid they may hear that their worst fear has come true – that their parents have indeed, permanently abandoned by their parents. And, if the parents do not explain what the separation means and doesn’t mean for the child, then the child may remain in a state of chronic anxiety.

Sometimes, this anxiety gets expressed as acting-out with aggressive and non-compliant behaviour, and sometimes it gets expressed as withdrawn behaviour, eating problems, sleeping problems, and/or school problems. So, if a child’s behaviour has changed from a usual pattern, it may simply be a red flag being waved saying, “I’m having difficulty dealing with this situation. Can you please help me by explaining what is going on?” Your child needs you to take time to explain in detail what the separation will mean to him or her. This is an excellent time to reassure your children that the separation and divorce are not their fault. It is not something they said, did, felt, or thought that made Daddy or Mommy leave. Give the child a simple explanation of why the separation did take place. Present it in a way that does not put down the other parent.

Our Children Australia

Our Children Australia

Children and co-parenting communications – Our Children Australia  is a unique communication portal that enables parents to appropriately communicate with each other.

The portal not only facilitates communication but also enables images (such as photos) and electronic documents to be shared between parents.

Previously, parents who were unable to effectively or appropriately communicate with each other would use a “Communication Book” which was passed between the parents via a contact centre, or alternatively, via the children’s school or overnight bag.

The Communications Book had its usefulness but also its limitations. Common frustrations of parents using Communication Books included:

  • inappropriate communications;
  • denigrating communications;
  • destruction of the Communications Book;
  • withholding of the Communications Book

All of these problems have now been overcome thanks to the Our Children website.

Parents are more inclined to self-regulate the nature and quality of their communications when communicating via the website as all communications are permanent in that they cannot be deleted or edited once made and can be produced in Court via subpoena.

The website is ideal particularly where there has been a history of verbal abuse by one or both parents.

For a modest yearly fee, parents can enjoy relief from any anxiety they have in communicating to or receiving communications from, the other parent by using the Our Children website.

The Our Children website also offers a free trial period.

If you are still using a Communications Book and feel it is no longer working for your situation, or you’re in the midst of a parenting dispute and communication is an issue, we encourage you to give the Our Children website a try.

If you need legal advice and assistance about a parenting dispute, including advice on how to incorporate communications via the Our Children website into your Parenting Plan or Parenting Order, call us at Freedom Law for a no obligation free consultation at your convenience.

Language development: an amazing journey

Language development in children is amazing, and it’s a development that many parents really look forward to. The secret to helping your child learn language is very simple: talk together lots and listen lots.

Language development in children: what you need to know

Although the first year is really important for language development in children, major learning continues throughout a child’s early years. And learning language is a lifelong process.

In their first 12 months, babies develop many of the foundations that underpin speech and language development. For the first three years or so, children understand a lot more than they can say.

Language development supports your child’s ability to communicate, and express and understand feelings. It also supports thinking and problem-solving, and developing and maintaining relationships. Learning to understand, use and enjoy language is the critical first step in literacy, and the basis for learning to read and write.

How to encourage your child’s language development

The best way to encourage your child’s speech and language development is to talk together frequently and naturally.

Talking with your baby
Talk to your baby and treat her as a talker, beginning in her first year. Assume she’s talking back to you when she makes sounds and babbles, even when she’s just paying attention to you. When you finish talking, give her a turn and wait for her to respond – she will!

When your baby starts babbling, babble back with similar sounds. You’ll probably find that he babbles back to you. This keeps the talking going and is great fun!

Responding to your baby
As your baby grows up and starts to use gestures and words, respond to her attempts to communicate. For example, if your child shakes her head, treat that behaviour as if she’s saying ‘No’. If she points to a toy, respond as if your child is saying, ‘Can I have that?’ or ‘I like that’.

When you tune in and respond to your child, it encourages him to communicate. You’ll be amazed at how much he has to say, even before his words develop.

Everyday talking
Talk about what’s happening. Talk to your baby even if she doesn’t understand – she soon will. Talk about things that make sense to her, but at the same time remember to use lots of different words.

As your baby becomes a toddler, keep talking to him – tell him the things that you’re doing, and talk about the things that he’s doing.

From the time your child starts telling stories, encourage her to talk about things in the past and in the future. At the end of the day, talk about plans for the next day – for example, making the weekly shopping list together or deciding what to take on a visit to grandma. Similarly, when you come home from a shared outing, talk about it.

Introducing new words
It’s important for children to be continually exposed to lots of different words in lots of different contexts. This helps them learn the meaning and function of words in their world.

Reading with your baby
Read and share books with your baby and keep using more complex books as he grows. Talk about the pictures. Use a variety of books and link what’s in the book to what’s happening in your child’s life. Books with interesting pictures are a great focus for talking.

Read aloud with your child and point to words as you say them. This shows your child the link between written and spoken words, and that words are distinct parts of language. These are important concepts for developing literacy.

Your local library is a great source of new books.

Following your child’s lead
If your child starts a conversation through talking, gesture or behaviour, respond to it, making sure you stick to the topic your child started.

You can also repeat and build on what your child says. For example, if she says, ‘Apple,’ you can say, ‘You want an apple. You want a red apple. I want a red apple too. Let’s have a red apple together’.

Language development: the first six years

Here are just a few of the important things your child might achieve in language development between three months and six years.

3-12 months
In this period, your baby will most likely coo and laugh, play with sounds and begin to communicate with gestures. Babbling is an important developmental stage during the first year and, for many children, words are starting to form by around 12 months.

Babbling is often followed by the ‘jargon phase’ where your child will produce unintelligible strings of sounds, often with a conversation-like tone. This makes his babbling sound meaningful.

First words also begin by around 12 months. Babbling, jargon and new words might appear together as your child’s first words continue to emerge.

Find out more about language development from 3-12 months.

12-18 months
During this time, first words usually appear (these one-word utterances are rich with meaning). In the following months, babies continue to add more words to their vocabulary. Babies can understand more than they say, though, and will be able to follow simple instructions. In fact your baby can understand you when you say ‘No’ – although she won’t always obey!

If your baby isn’t babbling and isn’t using gestures by 12 months, talk to your GP, child and family health nurse or other health professional.

18 months to 2 years 
In his second year, your toddler’s vocabulary has grown and he’ll start to put two words together into short ‘sentences’. He’ll understand much of what’s said to him, and you’ll be able to understand what he says to you (most of the time!).

Language development varies hugely, but if your baby doesn’t have some words by around 18 months, talk to your GP, child and family health nurse or other health professional.

Find out more about language development from 1-2 years.

2-3 years
Your child will be able to speak in longer, more complex sentences, and use a greater variety of speech sounds more accurately when she speaks. She might play and talk at the same time. Strangers will probably be able to understand most of what she says by the time she’s three.

Find out more about language development from 2-3 years.

3-5 years
Now your child is a preschooler, you can expect longer, more abstract and complex conversations. He’ll probably also want to talk about a wide range of topics, and his vocabulary will continue to grow. He might well show that he understands the basic rules of grammar, as he experiments with more complex sentences. And you can look forward to some entertaining stories too.

Find out more about language development from 3-4 years and language development from 4-5 years.

5-6 years
During the early school years, your child will learn more words and start to understand how the sounds within language work together. She’ll also become a better storyteller, as she learns to put words together in a variety of ways and build different types of sentences.

Find out more about language development from 5-6 years.

Children grow and develop at different rates, and no child exactly fits a description of a particular age. In each area of development things happen in a fairly predictable order, but there’s also a wide variation in what’s ‘normal’. If you have any concerns, ask your child and family health nurse, GP or paediatrician or see a speech pathologist.

Speech and language: what’s the difference?

Speech means producing the sounds that form words. It’s a physical activity that is controlled by the brain. Speech requires coordinated, precise movement from the tongue, lips, jaw, palate, lungs and voice box.

Making these precise movements takes a lot of practice, and that’s what children do in the first 12 months. Children learn to correctly make speech sounds as they develop, with some sounds taking more time than others.

Language is the words that your child understands and uses as well as how he uses them. Language includes spoken and written language. The parts that make up language include vocabulary, grammar and discourse:

  • Vocabulary is the store of words a person has – like a dictionary held in long-term memory.
  • Grammar, or syntax, is a set of rules about the order in which words should be used in sentences. These rules are learned through the experience of language.
  • Discourse is a language skill that we use to structure sentences into conversations, tell stories, poems and jokes, and for writing recipes or letters.

Play and play time are important for children

Playtime is more than just fun for babies and children. It’s how they learn best, and how they work out who they are, how the world works and where they fit into it.

You can read this article in a selection of languages other than English.

Playing is one of the most important things you can do with your child, because it is essential for your child’s brain development. The time you spend playing together gives your child lots of different ways and times to learn.

It also helps your child:

  • build confidence
  • feel loved, happy and safe
  • develop social skills, language and communication
  • learn about caring for others and the environment
  • develop physical skills.
Your child will love playing with you, but sometimes she might prefer to play by herself and won’t need so much hands-on play from you. She might just want you to give her ideas and let her know how her play and games are going.

Different types

Unstructured, free playtime is the best type of play for young children.

This is play that just happens, depending on what takes your child’s interest at the time. Free play isn’t planned and lets your child use his imagination and move at his own pace.

Examples of unstructured playtime might be:

  • creative play alone or with others, including artistic or musical games
  • imaginative games – for example, making cubby houses with boxes or blankets, dressing up or playing make-believe
  • exploring new or favourite play spaces like cupboards, backyards, parks, playgrounds and so on.

You can be part of your child’s unstructured play – or not. Sometimes all you’ll need to do is point her in the right direction – towards the jumble of dress-ups and toys on her floor, or to the table with crayons and paper. Sometimes you might need to be a bit more active. For example, ‘How about we play dress-ups? What do you want to be today?’.

Structured play is different. It’s more organised and happens at a fixed time or in a set space, and is often led by a grown-up.

Examples of structured play include:

  • water familiarisation classes for toddlers, or swimming lessons for older children – you might see these as important lessons for your child, but he might just think they’re fun
  • storytelling groups for toddlers and preschoolers at the local library
  • dance, music or drama classes for children of all ages
  • family board or card games
  • modified sports for slightly older children, like In2CRICKET, Aussie Hoops basketball, NetSetGO netball, Come and Try Rugby, and Auskick football.
Structured and unstructured play can happen indoors or outdoors. Outdoor play gives your child the chance to explore, be active, test physical limits – and get messy!

How play develops with your child

As your child grows, the way she plays will change – she’ll get more creative and experiment more with toys, games and ideas. This might mean she needs more space and time to play.

Also, children move through different forms of play as they grow. This includes playing alone, playing alongside other children and interactive play with other children.

Newborns and babies
For babies, the best toy is you. Just looking at your face and hearing your voice is play for your new baby, especially if you’re smiling.

You might like to try the following play ideas and activities with your little one:

  • Music, songs, gentle tapping on your baby’s tummy while you sing, bells or containers filled with different objects: these activities can help develop hearing and movement.
  • Objects of different sizes, colours and shapes can encourage your child to reach and grasp.
  • Sturdy furniture, balls, toys or boxes can get your child crawling, standing and walking.

Regular tummy time and floor play are very important for your baby’s development. Tummy time helps your baby develop movement control by strengthening head, neck and body muscles. It also allows your baby to see and experience the world from a different perspective.

Here are some ideas your toddler might enjoy:

  • Big and light things like cardboard boxes, buckets or blow-up balls can encourage your child to run, build, push or drag.
  • Chalk, rope, music or containers can encourage jumping, kicking, stomping, stepping and running.
  • Hoops, boxes, large rocks or pillows are good for climbing on, balancing, twisting, swaying or rolling.
  • Hills, tunnels or nooks can encourage physical activities like crawling and exploring.

If you put on some favourite music while your toddler plays, he can also experiment with different sounds and rhythms. You might also like to sing, dance and clap along to music with your child.

Here are some ideas to get your preschooler’s mind and body going:

  • Old milk containers, wooden spoons, empty pot plant containers, sticks, scrunched-up paper, plastic buckets, saucepans and old clothes are great for imaginative, unstructured play.
  • Simple jigsaw puzzles and matching games like animal dominoes help improve your child’s memory and concentration.
  • Playdough and clay help your child develop fine motor skills.
  • Favourite music or pots and pans are great for a dance concert or to make up music.
  • Balls and frisbees can encourage kicking, throwing or rolling.

When encouraging your child to kick or throw, try to get her to use one side of her body, then the other.

School-age children 
Your school-age child can have fun with the following objects and activities:

  • Furniture, linen, washing baskets, tents and boxes are great for building.
  • Home-made obstacle courses can get your child moving in different ways, directions and speeds.
  • Rhymes or games like ‘I spy with my little eye, something that begins with …’ are great for word play and help develop literacy skills.
  • Simple cooking or food preparation like measuring, stirring and serving food is great for developing numeracy and everyday skills.
  • Your child’s own imagination: with imagination, your child can turn himself into a favourite superhero or story character.

If your child is interested, you could think about getting her into some sports or team activities for school-age children. Other possibilities include after-school or holiday art and craft activities.

You don’t have to spend lots of money on toys, games and books for childrenHomemade toys and free activities are often the most creative ways for you and your child to have fun together.

If your child doesn’t want to play

There might be times when your child doesn’t want to play – for example, he could be tired or bored by doing the same activity for too long. This is normal and usually nothing to worry about.

But sometimes a lack of play – or a lack of interest in play – can be a sign of a developmental disorder.

Consider speaking with a health professional or your child’s educator if:

  • your baby doesn’t seem to get into interactive play like peekaboo
  • your toddler has only a narrow interest in toys, or doesn’t use toys in a functional way – for example, is only interested in spinning the wheels of a toy car instead of driving it around the room like other children the same age
  • your preschooler isn’t interested in playing with other children, or isn’t interested in playing pretend games.

Reading and storytelling with babies and children

Did you know?

Sharing books with your child plays a big part in your child successfully learning to read.

Reading aloud and sharing stories with your child is a great way to spend time together. Reading and storytelling also helps promote language, literacy and brain development.

Why reading is important for babies and young children

Sharing stories, talking and singing every day helps your child’s development in lots of ways.

Reading and sharing stories can:

  • help your child become familiar with sounds, words, language and the value of books
  • spark your child’s imagination, stimulate curiosity and help his brain development
  • help your child learn the difference between ‘real’ and ‘make-believe’
  • help your child understand change and new or frightening events, and also the strong emotions that can go along with them
  • help your child develop early literacy skills like the ability to listen to and understand words.

Sharing stories with your child doesn’t mean you have to read.

Just by looking at books with your child, you can be a great storyteller and a good model for using language and books. Your child will learn by watching you hold a book the right way and seeing how you move through the book by gently turning the pages.

Reading stories with children has benefits for grown-ups too. The special time you spend reading together promotes bonding and helps to build your relationship. This is important for your child’s developing social and communication skills.

Storytelling and songs

Reading isn’t the only way to help with your child’s language and literacy development.

Telling stories, singing songs and saying rhymes together are also great activities for early literacy skills – and your child will probably have a lot of fun at the same time. Sometimes your child might enjoy these activities more than reading.

You might like to make up your own stories or share family stories. Your child will learn words and develop language skills from the songs, stories and conversations you share together.

Reading to your child in other languages

You can read, sing and tell stories with your child in whatever language you feel most comfortable speaking.

Using a language you’re comfortable with helps you to communicate more easily and helps to make reading, singing and storytelling more fun for you both. Your child will still learn that words are made up of different letters, syllables and sounds, and that words usually link to the pictures on the page.

Don’t worry if English isn’t your child’s first language. Knowing another language will actually help your child learn English when she starts playgroup, kindergarten or school.

Dual-language books are a great resource, and many children’s books are published in two languages. If you speak a language other than English at home, reading dual-language books with your child might also help you become more familiar with English.

Another option is to read a book aloud in English and talk about it with your child in whatever language feels most comfortable to both of you.

If you like, you can talk about the pictures in the book instead of reading the words. Could you and your child make up a story together? Do what you can and as much as you’re comfortable with.

When to read, sing and tell stories with your child

Bedtime, bath time, potty time, on the train, on the bus, in the car, in the park, in the pram, in the cot, when you’re in the GP’s waiting room … any time is a good time for a story! You can make books part of your daily routine – take them with you to share and enjoy everywhere.

Knowing when to stop can be just as important as finding the time to share a story in the first place. Pay attention to your child’s reaction to the story, and stop if he’s not enjoying it this time. You can always try a book, song or story at another time.

If you don’t have a book or can’t make up a story on the spot, don’t worry. There are many other ways you and your child can share letters, words and pictures. For example, you can look at:

  • packages at home or in the supermarket, especially food packaging
  • clothing – what does it say on the t-shirt? What colour is it?
  • letters and notes – what do they say? Who sent them?
  • signs or posters in shops, or on buses and trains – point out signs that have the same letters as your child’s name
  • menus – these can be fun for older children to look at and work out what they want to eat.
You could also check out our storytelling videos. Let storyteller Anne E. Stewart introduce you and your child to ‘Mook Mook the Owl’, ‘The Crocodile’, ‘The Old Lady and The Mosquito’ and ‘How the Years were Named for the Animals’.

Tips for sharing books with babies and young children

  • Make a routine and try to share at least one book every day. A reading chair where you’re both comfortable can become part of your reading routine.
  • Turn off the TV or radio, and find a quiet place to read so your child can hear your voice.
  • Hold your child close or on your knee while you read, so she can see your face and the book.
  • Try out funny noises and sounds – play and have fun!
  • Involve your child by encouraging talk about the pictures, and by repeating familiar words and phrases.
  • Let your toddler choose the books when he’s old enough to start asking – and be prepared to read his favourite books over and over again!

If you have older children, they can share books with your younger children, or you can all read together. Taking turns, asking questions and listening to the answers are all important skills that will help your child when she starts learning to read.

Even reading for a few minutes at a time is effective – you don’t always have to finish the book. As children grow, they’re typically able to listen for longer.

What sort of books to read with your child

There are so many books to choose from that it can be hard to know where to start. As a broad rule, young children often enjoy books, songs and stories that have good rhyme, rhythm and repetition. In fact, one of the ways that children learn is through repetition and rhyme.

Choose books that are the right length for your child and that match your child’s changing interests.

For a guide to what might suit your child, you might like to look at the following articles:

You can also vary the books you read. Picture books, magazines, instruction manuals, TV guides and letters can all be interesting and engaging for your child. Arranging book swaps with friends, or at your parent group or early childhood centre, can be a good way to try new books without much expense.

Using your local library

Libraries have a lot to offer. Getting to know your local library can be a part of learning about and loving books.

You can borrow great children’s books for free from your local library. This means you can have lots of books in your home for your child to explore – and it won’t cost you a cent.

Taking your child to the library and letting him choose his own books can be a fun adventure. You can talk about and plan your trip to the library with your child, and get excited together. You could ask your child, for example:

  • How many books will you choose?
  • How many books can you find by your favourite author?
  • Will you borrow books that have animals in them?
  • Do you have a favourite book you’d like to borrow again?
  • How many days will it be before we go to the library again?

Libraries also offer story times and activities for young children. Going along to these sessions is a way to help your child get familiar with the library, have fun and enjoy books and stories.

Libraries often stock audio books and dual-language books. You can listen to audio books in the car or as a family at home together. Many libraries also provide access to e-books through their websites.

Just contact your local library for more information.

Child development: the first five years

 The first five years of a child’s life are critical for development. The experiences children have in these years help shape the adults they will become. More than anything else, your relationship with your child shapes the way your child learns and develops.

About early child development

Development is the term used to describe the changes in your child’s physical growth, as well as her ability to learn the social, emotional, behaviour, thinking and communication skills she needs for life. All of these areas are linked, and each depends on and influences the others.

In the first five years of life, your child’s brain develops more and faster than at any other time in his life. Your child’s early experiences – the things he sees, hears, touches, smells and tastes – stimulate his brain, creating millions of connections. This is when the foundations for learning, health and behaviour throughout life are laid down.

Babies are born ready to learn, and their brains develop through use. So your child needs a stimulating environment with lots of different activities that give her plenty of ways to play and learn, and lots of chances to practise what she’s learning.

Relationships: the foundation for child development

Children’s relationships affect all areas and stages of their development.

This is because relationships are experiences. In fact, relationships are the most important experiences in your child’s environment because they teach him the most about the world around him. They also shape the way he sees the world.

Through relationships, your child learns whether the world is safe and secure, whether she’s loved, who loves her, what happens when she cries, laughs or makes a face – and much more. Your child also learns by seeing relationships between other people – for example, how you behave towards your partner, and how your partner behaves towards you. This learning is the basis for the development of your child’s communication, behaviour, social and other skills.

Your child’s most important relationships are with you, other family members and carers, including early childhood educators.

A loving, nurturing relationship helps you and your child learn a little more about each other every day. As your child grows and develops, his needs will change. You’ll learn more about what he needs and how you can meet these needs.

Play: how child development happens

In the early years, your child’s main way of learning and developing is through play.

Play is fun for your child and gives her an opportunity to explore, observe, experiment, solve problems and learn from her mistakes. She’ll need your support and encouragement to do this. But it’s important to try to find a balance between helping her and letting her make mistakes, because finding out for herself about how the world works is a big part of learning.

Lots of time spent playing, talking, listening and interacting with you helps your child learn the skills he needs for life. These skills include communicating, thinking, solving problems, moving and being with other people and children.

Play is a great relationship builder. Spending time playing with your child sends a simple message – you are important to me. This message helps your child learn about who she is and where she fits in the world.

Other things that shape child development

Things like healthy eating, physical activity, health and the neighbourhood you live in also have a big impact on your child’s wellbeing and development.

You have some control over some of these things – for example, what your child eats and how much activity he does. But you might have less control over things like health.

Healthy eating
Healthy food gives your child the energy and nutrients she needs to grow and develop. It helps develop her sense of taste. And healthy family food and eating patterns in the early years can set up healthy eating habits for life.

Your child learns about food choices from you, so the best way to help your child develop healthy eating habits is to let him see you preparing, eating and enjoying healthy food yourself.

Physical activity
Being physically active gets your child moving. It develops her motor skills, helps her think and gives her an opportunity to explore her world. So your child needs plenty of opportunities for active play, both inside and outside. And if you’re active yourself, your child is likely to follow your lead.

Your child’s health can influence his development. All children get sick at some point – for example, with coughs and colds, earaches or gastroenteritis. These minor childhood illnesses generally won’t cause any long-term problems with development.

But chronic or long-term health conditions like diabetes, asthma, cystic fibrosis or cancer can affect your child’s development. If your child has a chronic health condition, it’s a good idea to talk with your GP, child and family health nurse or other medical specialist (for example, a paediatrician) about how this might affect her development.

Neighbourhood and local community
Your neighbourhood and local community influence your child’s development. For example, your child’s development is supported by positive relationships with friends and neighbours, and access to things like playgrounds, parks, shops and local services like child care, schools, health centres and libraries.

Developing at different rates

Children grow and develop at different rates.

Some parents worry about when their child will walk, and others worry about when their baby’s first teeth will appear. Most skills develop in the same order, but the age they happen might vary even for children in the same family.

It might help to remember that development is different for every child.

If you’re wondering about whether your child’s development is ‘normal’, it might also help to know that ‘normal’ varies a lot. For example, the normal age range for children to start walking is 8-18 months. So if your child isn’t walking at 14 months, that’s OK.

If you really feel that something isn’t quite right with your child’s development, trust your instinct. See your child and family health nurse or GP.

Being a parent

As a parent, you’re always learning. Every parent makes mistakes and learns through experience. It’s OK to feel confident about what you know. And it’s also OK to admit you don’t know and ask questions.

Your own physical and mental health is an important part of being a parent. But with all the focus on looking after a child or baby, lots of parents forget or run out of time to look after themselves. Looking after yourself will help you with the understanding, patience, imagination and energy you need to be a parent.

Property settlement – a summary of the approach

Property settlement – a summary of the approach

Clements & Clements & Anor

Property settlement

  1. If the Husband and Wife each keep assets and superannuation in their respective names, the Husband would receive 53.9% and the Wife 46.1% of the assets.

Is it just and equitable to make any order?

      1. It is necessary for the Court to consider “all the circumstances” to determine whether it is just and equitable to make any order for property adjustment.[136]His Honour Justice Murphy[137]described “circumstances of the parties’ relationship” as “its nature, form and characteristics”. His Honour quoted from Stanford[138]:
        The fundamental propositions that have been identified require that a court have a principled reason for interfering with the existing legal and equitable interests of the parties to the marriage and whatever may have been their stated or unstated assumptions and agreements about property interests during the continuance of the marriage. ..


…the bare fact of separation, when involuntary, does not show that it is just and equitable to make a property settlement order. It does not permit a court to disregard the rights and interests of the parties in their respective property and to make whatever order may seem to it to be fair and just…


… the rights of the parties [are] to be determined according to law, not by reference to other, non-legal considerations…” (such as moral obligations)

  1. As already noted, the Husband’s counsel submits there should be no adjustment. The Wife’s counsel submits the Wife is entitled to a substantial adjustment if the Second Respondent’s claim succeeds, given the modest size of the remaining asset pool.

Contributions for property settlement purposes

  1. In accordance with s.79(4), the court must consider all the contributions, both financial and non-financial to the acquisition, conservation and improvement of the parties’ assets as well as to the welfare of the family during cohabitation and after separation. The Court must consider the contributions in an overall sense.[139] The Full Court has held that it is not necessary for the Court to justify its decision in property cases by reference to precise mathematical calculations, but rather a broad approach is preferred.[140] The Court is nevertheless required to undertake an evaluation of each party’s respective contributions.[141] The Court must examine what actually happened, not make assumptions about what happened. It is not sufficiently rigorous to assume that what one party did is equal to what the other party did and conclude there is no distinction to be made in relation to each party’s contributions. Neither counsel asked me to deal with this matter on an asset by asset basis. I have therefore adopted the global approach. [142]
  2. Although the parties had been separated for three years at the date of final hearing, there is no requirement on the Court to separately assess matters occurring after separation in arriving at an assessment of contributions.[143] I have assessed each party’s contributions overall.
  3. In relation to the parties’ superannuation interests, it is open to the Court to decide whether to treat superannuation interests as a separate list of assets, or as part of one asset list. The majority of the Full Court in C & C [144] said there is no binding principle as to the exercise of the Court’s discretion in deciding whether a one list or two list approach should be adopted. Neither party’s counsel made submissions on this issue. Given the modest size of the total asset pool, I have addressed the superannuation and the non-superannuation assets in the one list.

Assessment of contributions for property settlement purposes

  1. The Wife’s solicitor submits that the parties’ contributions should be assessed as equal if the Second Respondent’s claim succeeds.
  2. The Wife seeks 20% by way of adjustment under section 75(2), a division of 70/30 in her favour, her entitlement to include the $50,000 she has already received by way of interim property distribution, and the Husband’s entitlement to include the $20,000 he has received.
  3. As already noted, the Husband’s counsel submits that there should be no adjustment, and therefore does not submit a percentage a figure on contributions.
  4. On the basis of my findings, I have determined there should be a property adjustment in favour of the Husband. I assess the Husband’s contributions at 53% and the Wife’s contributions at 47%.

Assessment of section 75(2) factors for property settlement purposes

  1. The Court must weigh all the s.75(2) factors together and then make one adjustment.[155]
  2. The Husband’s counsel submits that there should be no adjustment. Mr Brown for the Wife submits that there should be a 20% adjustment. It is his submission that the smaller the pool, the stronger the pressure on the section 75(2) factors.
  3. On a weighing of my findings on the relevant factors to which I have referred under s 75(2), I have decided the Wife will receive an adjustment of 10% in her favour. This means that the net assets of the parties will be divided as to 57% to the Wife, and 43% to the Husband.

Is the result just and equitable for property settlement purposes?

  1. The Court must be satisfied that the actual orders provide for a just and equitable distribution of the property of the parties.[156]
  2. The parties own property with a net value of $249,357 inclusive of superannuation. Neither party seeks a transfer of any items of property in the other’s name, or a superannuation splitting order.
  3. On the basis of a 57/43 division, the Wife would be entitled to receive assets with a value of $142,133.49. The Husband would be entitled to receive 43% of the assets with a value of $107,223.51.
  4. The Wife has net assets in her name with a value of $114,849 including her care, shares, superannuation. She would therefore need a payment of $27,284.49 to receive her entitlement.
  5. The Husband has net assets in his name with a value of $134,508 including a few shares and superannuation. His current net assets would exceed his entitlement by an amount of $27,284.49.
  6. The only assets available to the Husband to meet the Wife’s payment are his superannuation entitlements. This will necessitate a splitting of his (omitted) Fund. Neither party has prepared for this outcome by giving notice to the Fund of such an outcome, yet both must have foreseen this outcome as a probability if the Second Respondent’s claim was successful, and the Court made a property adjustment in favour of the Wife.
  7. The law requires the Fund to be afforded procedural fairness before a splitting Order is made. The Husband’s solicitor will be directed to put the fund on notice of the splitting Order. The Order will be made, once the Court has been advised that the Fund has been afforded procedural fairness. The parties will otherwise retain the assets in their respective names.
  8. Having regard to my findings in this case, I am satisfied that the proposed Orders concerning the spouse parties set out at the beginning of these Reasons are just and equitable.