Coparenting: How to handle drop off/pick ups and schedules

Coparenting through your first transfers of your children with your coparent can be one of the most painful times of life.  You didn't expect this or necessarily want it, but there goes your child in their car and now you sit alone.  Sometimes you can still hear your child crying or laughing.... And you just sit in your car or at your home and weep.  I want to remind you it will not always be like this.  You will find hope again.  Divorce is not the final answer to your family.  Hope can be found again! As a Coparenting Counselor, one of the most difficult and frustrating issues for coparents is often transitions (drop offs/pick ups) and schedule making and changes.  Below are a few tips to make things a little easier!

Coparenting through Transitions

Children need to know what is coming on the day of drop off/pick up to the coparent. Have a conversation with them to prepare them for the transition. When you wake up the morning of the transition talk about how it will go. For instance, “After lunch, we are going to meet your dad at the park and you are going to go his house for the weekend. You are going to have a lot of fun! He has a lot of fun things planned for you!” Keep having this conversation throughout the day with them.

  • Be on time. Don't complicate things by being late.

  • Put yourself in your child's shoes and having to transition and the emotional energy it would take. Make it as positive and easy as possible for them.

  • Remember you cannot fix or take away all of their anxiety, but you can reassure them as much as possible.

Coparenting with Goodbyes and Hellos

It is important that you say your goodbyes and give your hugs ahead of time before you actually transition to the other parent.   Tell your child this before the transition. It makes it difficult on the child if you do this at the time of the transition.  Make the transition as quick and positive as possible.  Also, make sure you speak to the other parent in a positive, upbeat manner. Do not have ANY emotional conversation with your coparent.  This is ALL about your child and ONLY about your child.  Your time for conversations need to be saved for emails and phone calls.  You are the grown-ups.  Act like it.   The more relaxed you are the more relaxed your child will be.  Pay attention not only to your words because that is only 10% of how you communicate. Your body language is 90% of how you communicate.  Also, give your child about 30 minutes of time to get acclimated back into your home.  Don't plan anything.  Don't get on the phone.  Be present and relaxed.

  • Don't linger with long heartfelt goodbyes. This makes kids feel guilty.

  • Relax, so your child can relax

  • Keep it short and sweet

  • Be positive

Coparenting: Schedules when they are young

Stability is important when children are young. Keeping to a fixed schedule helps children and the parent stick to a particular rhythm in this new normal.  Children will learn at a VERY early age which parent can be manipulated out of the schedule.  If you are effectively coparenting together, this will make it harder.

Keeping children on the same schedule in terms of bedtimes and naptimes is also key. This is not the time to make a power play and keep the child up, so he will be cranky for the other parent. You are only hurting your child. Let your child rest. As coparents, come up with a fairly set schedule of mealtime, naptimes, and bedtimes and work within that as a framework in terms of the best interest of your child. Remember to adhere to the "spirit of the law" and not the "letter of the law".  In other words, some flexibility is OK for special events, but making this a regular practice only hurts the child as well as the coparenting relationship you are trying to build.

  • stick to a schedule you and your coparent decided on for mealtimes and nap times

  • young children need and want routine and stability

  • kids learn early how to manipulate their parents and it isn't cute or funny

  • if you are trying to "win" against your coparent, you are hurting your child, your coparent (score!) but guess what- yourself too! (say what?) You will have no peace between fighting your coparent or trying new ways to figure out how to "win" your child over. Aren't you exhausted?

Coparenting: Schedules when they get older

Be Flexible

As kids hit middle school they will need more flexibility regarding visitation. This is important in terms of building a lasting, intimate relationship with your child. Forcing them to come to your scheduled weekend when they have an invitation to a friend’s house will only build resentment on your child’s part. How can you promote your child’s social life, but also promote your relationship with your child on your weekend? I believe in flexibility with a gracious pursuit of your child. Some parents are so flexible they just give up when they are teenagers and let the kids decide where they want to go.  Teenagers need you to pursue them.

Pursue.  Pay Attention.  Be curious.

Pay attention to your teenager. Study them.  This is often easier for the custodial parent than the non-custodial parent.  Sometimes, non-custodial parents eventually just give up trying. PLEASE DON'T.  Your kids were given YOU.   Figure out what are they interested in- music, clothes, sports, design, art, boyfriends/girlfriends- whatever it is figure it out and start with that. If they love music, buy concert tickets and take them to a concert.  If they love sports watch games with them, study the sport, so you can speak the language. When you are coparenting a teenager, you must think out of the box of the divorce decree to stay engaged with your teenager. Find new meaningful ways to have discussions. If you don’t know, ask your coparent for ideas and listen. Take notes. Be flexible. Stay engaged. Pursue.

  • Be flexible- Kids are social and want friends and they have jobs

  • Pursue them. Pursue them. Pursue them.

  • Don't give up. Be Curious. Ask questions. Pay attention.

  • Think outside of the box of the divorce decree

  • Ask your coparent for advice on how to better connect. Listen.

  • Follow through on promises made and ideas you have to pursue them

If you are frustrated in your co-parenting relationship and not sure how to move forward, co-parenting counseling with me can help!   Please email at or call me at 205-538-3978 or go online to schedule an appointment. Sara Dungan, M.Ed, LMFT, ALC, NCC, Certified Parenting Coordinator, Divorce and Family Mediator (Domestic Violence Trained) has her private practice called Sparrow Counseling in Birmingham, AL.  She specializes in Parenting Coordination, Co-Parenting Counseling and Divorce and Family Mediation.  Her passion is helping parents learn how to become successful coparents, so their children can thrive after their divorce.  Contact Sara at

Sara is an Associate Licensed Counselor (ALC) under the supervision of H. Hobart (Bart) Grooms, M. Div, MEd, LPC-S, LMFT-S, Supervising Counselor.