Tell the Kids What to Expect
Help your children prepare physically and emotionally for child exchanges by telling them what to expect:
For small children, a photo calendar on the refrigerator can be plastered with stickers that designate Mommy/Daddy days. For older children, an online calendar they can access from their electronic devices helps them plan ahead. For teens, we recommend posting the parenting schedule on Our Family Wizard (*link here) or a Google calendar.
If they’re going to be at the other parent’s house, the kids will know what items are already there – like toothbrushes, stuffed animals, and pajamas. If they’re going to Grandma’s house, they will need more. They will also need extra items for planned activities, like taking a mitt to a baseball game or packing a pretty dress for an uncle’s wedding.
Be on Time
Don’t use time as a weapon. Being late and rushing will stress your children unfairly. Teaching children to be on time is an important life skill.
Have Everything Ready to Go
Pack necessities before the exchange time. It’s a good idea to do this the night before the exchange to avoid a last-minute rush. Use a designated backpack/bag for each child every weekend. Using the same bag every time makes replenishing necessary items is easier. For school or extra-curricular activities during the parenting time, do a quick check of each bag to make sure everything is there. Try using a checklist: homework, school ID cards, pajamas, etc.
Try to keep exchanges brief. Long drawn-out exchanges increase the risk of argument and can be distressing. Even if your child is crying or otherwise reluctant, hand them over right away, then leave. Your little one will probably be happy again within 5 minutes of departure. When you’re picking up an upset child, a quick text reassuring the other parent that the child recovered quickly can go a long way in terms of generating goodwill with your ex.
Guard your Tongue
Never bad mouth your ex in front of the children. That is unpleasant for your children. Also, child exchanges are not the time for Mom and Dad to talk about the case, the court orders, or what the other is doing wrong. Save that for a time when the kids are out of sight and out of earshot.
This should be obvious, but hard stares and harsh words are bad for the kids. Maintain your composure throughout the exchange. Always be kind, even if it’s not reciprocated.
Don’t bring your new love interest to the exchange unless you know for a fact that the other parent is fully comfortable with that. The same goes for any friend or relative who is antagonistic to the other parent. A carload of supporters only increases tension.