Preparing the Child for the Parenting Time Access Exchange:
Children need predictability and assistance in preparation for transition between their two homes. Children need to hear each parent speak positively about the other parent and the other parent’s extended family. Reminders should be given at appropriate intervals about the upcoming parenting time and a positive message about the other parent should be included.
For example, the night before, a parent may say: “Sara, tomorrow morning, we will be having breakfast and then going to Daddy’s.”
Prior to the exchange, a parent may say: “Sara, you are almost done your breakfast. In five minutes, let’s get your shoes on and get ready to go to Daddy. Daddy told me you are going ice skating. It will be really nice to enjoy ice skating with Daddy.”
Plan for the Parenting Time Access Exchange:
You should plan in advance.
Where will the exchange occur? What time will the exchange occur at? What is the procedure if a parent is going to be late? Which items of clothing and other necessities will accompany the child? Who will take the child out of the car? Will the parent come to the door? Are third parties permitted to attend? If a third party is attending, has her or she been instructed regarding verbal and nonverbal messages?
It is not your child’s job to carry messages between the parents. Do not have your child assume responsibility for any aspect of the exchange, such as a change in drop-off time.
The Parenting Time Access Exchange:
Take a deep breath before seeing your former partner. Remember, your role in this moment is to make this experience stress-free for your child. Your child will take cues from both of you. If either or both parents are stressed, upset, angry, or frustrated, then your child will experience a stressful transition. You cannot control the other parent, but you can give your all to make the transition less stressful for your child.
Here are some points to keep in mind going into the exchange:
1. This is not the time to talk with your former partner or any third parties present about child support, the contents of the house, or your feelings about your former partner’s new partner.
2. This is not the time to criticize the other parent, threaten legal or police involvement, or express any negativity. Anything you want to say can be communicated when the child is not present.
3. If you cannot communicate basic details (i.e. how much cream to put on a scratch) without sounding disdainful, communicate those details in writing prior to the exchange. Do not expose your child to the conflict.
4. In very high conflict cases, to avoid any hint of physical violence allegations between you and the other parent, do not physically transfer the children from one parent’s arms to the other.
5. Avoid saying to your child, “don’t worry” as this communicates to the child that he or she should worry.
6. Do not tell your child that you will be lonely without him or her.
7. Have an upbeat and positive tone to your voice when you say bye-bye to your child.
8. Encourage the child to go to the other parent.
9. Be mindful of your non-verbal cues. Try to smile.
10. Do not slam the car door or the door of the exchange location.
11. Do not damage any property in any way.
12. Do not clutch the child tightly.
13. Do not sigh.
14. Do not give nasty looks to your partner.
15. Do not hold up your phone to obviously video / audio record your former partner.
Helping the Child Transition:
It is normal to take some time to transition between the care of parents. What activity is calming for your child? Perhaps you can plan to do a puzzle. Let your child know what to expect for the time you will spend together. Take the opportunity to comment positively about the other parent. For example,
“Sara, Mommy said you had zucchini muffins for breakfast. Mommy makes the best zucchini muffins, you are so lucky!”
Your child now lives in two worlds, and it is important for you to help your child feel consistently positive about both of these worlds. Your child knows that he or she is made up of both parents and negative messages about a parent can result in your child internalizing negative messages about himself or herself. Throughout the time with your child, it is important to reinforce that you feel positively about the child’s other parent and their extended family.