COLUMN: Decreasing transition blues with co-parent visitations

If you have been to court to obtain a parenting time order, you have probably had a judge, referee or your own attorney tell you that both parties are expected to abide by the terms of the order.  Then what do you do when it is Friday at 6 p.m. and your toddler is supposed to go to the other parent’s house for parenting time, but he or she is crying and doesn’t want to go? Or what do you do when it is spring break, and your teenager is refusing to go spend the week at the other parent’s house because they want to hang out with friends?

These are both tough situations that parents who are trying to co-parent while living in separate households may face at some point. Younger children may fuss during parenting time exchanges. Some fussing is normal and has even been nicknamed “the transition blues.”

All children experience stress at times and may express this by fussing — even if their parents are still living together and get along. Don’t immediately jump to the conclusion that there is an issue with the other parent if your child fusses at a parenting time exchange.

Try to consider the parenting time exchange experience from your child’s perspective and what may be stressful for them. If you have a specific bedtime routine you always follow or favorite breakfast you always have that the child may be afraid of missing out on, let the other parent know about it so they can do the same thing. Let your child know that both parents know what his or her bedtime routine is or what his or her favorite breakfast is.

Talk to the other parent if possible and work together to create a consistent parenting time exchange routine that helps ease your child’s stress. Try to make transition time from one parent to the other as swift and smooth as possible (no long good-byes.) Children can pick up on your mood and may feel they shouldn’t be excited about parenting time with the other parent if you aren’t excited about it so try to stay positive and upbeat during the exchange.

As children grow older parenting time exchanges can still have moments of stress. Teenagers may not want to leave one parent’s house because they want to do things with their friends or may not like the rules at the other parent’s house. Unlike a toddler who may fuss at a parenting exchange, a teenager may be more vocal about their disagreement with a parenting time schedule and may even refuse to go.

While it may be tempting to let your teenager decide what their parenting time schedule will be, both parents are still required to abide by the current court order.

If possible, work with the other parent to find a parenting time schedule that still allows for both parents to have meaningful parenting time but also considers the new activities that your teenager may be involved in or interests they may have. Talk to the other parent to see if you can establish consistent parenting time rules to ease any issues that may be created by one parent having what your teenager considers more lenient rules than the other parent.

By working together to figure out what is causing a child stress during parenting time exchanges, parents can often resolve the issue and make parenting time an enjoyable experience for their child. No matter your child’s age, if your child continues have issues during parenting time exchanges for more than three months, or experiences stress for more than a day after they have been with the other parent, consider seeking a professional evaluation and parenting advice.

If you can’t work with the other parent to establish a parenting time schedule and exchange routine that works for your child, you can always file a motion to bring the matter before the court to have the court determine a schedule and exchange routine that is in the best interest of your child.

If you have questions about the FOC that you think would be helpful to address in future columns, please send them to the FOC email address: foc@cassco.org

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