Part of co-parenting is learning to manage child visitation pick-ups and drop-offs. For many separated or divorced couples, this is a high tension time, particularly if there’s a great degree of conflict as the relationship between both parents comes to a close. Ideally, managing children’s visitation exchanges should be a time where the adults set aside their differences in favor of making the experience as painless and seamless as possible for the kids, but many struggle with being able to do so. If you’re at a loss as to how to make your child’s visitation pick-ups and drop-offs smoother without losing your own grip on sanity, try these five suggestions.

1. Pick a Neutral Location

If you’re unable or unwilling to meet at your home or the other parent’s home, choose a neutral location for child pickups and dropoffs. Public places like stores, restaurants, commercial locations, parks or libraries encourage good behavior from the adults exchanging the children and can be a safe, conflict-free place to greet or send off your child. Some of these places also reserve the right to ban those who engage in disruptive behavior.

You can also choose to make the exchange at your child’s school or childcare center. Kids already usually associate these locations with positive experiences and staff can be present to attend to the needs of your children or look out for any cues of misbehavior from parents. Contact your child’s school or daycare center in advance to find out their policies on visitation exchanges and enlist their consent to help.

2. Avoid High Conflict Locations

A corollary to the above, it’s easy to make your child’s visitation pick-ups and drop-offs less stressful by avoiding places where stress occurs. Sounds simple, right? While you may feel better exchanging physical custody of your child at the police station, your counselor’s office or your child’s doctor’s office, these locations aren’t great for child exchanges.

These are places where people in distress regularly go — a police station, for example, may make your child bear witness to arrests or those visibly upset coming and going. It can also set parents on edge, who feel like they’re somehow worthy of being the subject of scrutiny. Those working are unable to ensure a smooth drop off and the heightened tension can create problems or provoke less than stellar behavior where there might not have been an issue elsewhere. Besides, do you really want your child to associate all their memories of their mom and dad at a police station?

3. Prepare Your Child

Preparing your child for a pickup or dropoff isn’t as simple as just gathering their belongings in a backpack or suitcase. There’s a fair amount of mental preparation involved in easing the anxiety over an exchange.

First, make sure you inform your child of the plan. Don’t phrase it as an optional event, because it’s not. Enlist their help in gathering their things. If your child is particularly worried about forgetting their belongings at the other parent’s house, consider letting them help pick out their own backpack or suitcase especially for the occasion.

Give your child something to look forward to when they come back to your house.  Maybe mention an activity you have planned or a book that you’ll read to them. There’s no reason to send them off sad or stressed, focus instead on the positives.  After all, their time with both of their parents is invaluable and irreplaceable.

4. Prepare Yourself

Do your best to be on time and show up with as pleasant an attitude as possible — if not pleasant, at least as civil and respectful as possible. If something happens that means you’ll run late, inform the other parent ASAP. By respecting your former spouse’s time and presence, you’ll model the behavior you’d like to see from your children. Maintaining a positive attitude and modeling it can go a long way in making your children less stressed about the pickup or dropoff.

Be prepared for negative emotions from your child and make a plan for how you’ll handle them. It’s totally normal for your kid to cry, cling or not want to leave. Be tolerant of it, but remind them of how much fun they’ll have with the other parent. Anger or even resentment can be manifestations of stress and anxiety too — be firm yet understanding of their emotions and remind them that while they don’t have to be happy about the situation, they still have an obligation to show up and be respectful.

5. Keep it Simple and Child-Focused

The best child exchanges can be compared to a pizza delivery — it’s short, it’s sweet, it’s simple and it’s focused on getting the child where they need to be. Maintain at least as much courtesy and respect as you would for someone delivering a pizza to your house — if you can show a relative stranger that behavior for a few minutes, you can do the same to your former spouse.

Keep it all business and focused on your child. Your child’s pickup or dropoff is not the time to discuss the arrangements or other issues you may have with your former spouse. Set up a time to have that discussion if necessary, but not when you’re in the middle of exchanging your child.  And above all else, do not be tempted to use your children as messengers. In fact, the less you involve them in your divorce proceedings, the better off everyone will be.

Viewing your kiddo’s pickup and dropoff exchange similarly to a business transaction — much like a pizza delivery — ensures that civility, boundaries and order are maintained. The biggest difference is the extra love and care you give to your child as they leave or come home is usually not how you’d treat a pizza. Usually.

Focus on Your Child to Keep Pickups and Dropoffs Stress Free

By focusing on your child and their needs, emotions and thoughts, you can keep the pickup and dropoff routine as stress-free as possible for both them and yourself. The arrangement, is, after all, about them and their well-being. By keeping your focus on that, you can eliminate some stress for everyone involved.

Every interaction between you and your ex has the potential to influence how your child feels about both of you.  Keeping those visitation pick-ups and drop-offs stress-free is a big step toward making the entire situation easier for the youngest members of your family..  

At Rodríguez Family Law, we want your custody exchanges to be the best they can be, which is why we offer mediation for parents who can’t quite come to an agreement about basic issues like child exchanges.  We’ve helped plenty of divorced parents and we can help you, too! Give us a call today at 862-241-1228 or you can send us an email. We’re here to help.