Father with kids

When divorced parents share custody of their children, they will go through years of negotiating various holidays, birthdays, and vacations. Depending on how amicable the relationship is, the negotiations may be simple or they may be quite contentious. Holidays are definitely a time when co-parenting negotiations can get highly emotional. There are some negotiation strategies that parents can learn in order to make this process a little easier.

Keeping the amygdala in mind during Negotiations

It is important to remember what is physiologically happening to a person’s brain when they are upset, angry or defensive. The amygdala shuts down the executive function of the brain and goes directly into fight, flight or freeze mode. In order for a negotiation to go smoothly, you have to keep both your own emotions in check as well as the other person’s. How do we do that? 

Negotiating while calm

You want to make sure that you do not engage in any type of co-parenting negotiations while you are upset or angry about anything. Your brain will not be able to process anything, so the chances of the negotiation going sideways is high. Use some of these strategies to bring down your emotional temperature: take a walk, talk to a good friend or family member, take several deep breaths, write down everything you are grateful for about your co-parent, work to actively remove judgment about your co-parent.


If you use active listening skills and mirroring as your strategy, you will not only be able to keep your own emotions from spiraling out of control, but you can keep the other person calm as well. Many times, the reason people get angry is that they feel unheard. You can keep this from happening by mirroring what they are saying. Begin by using the phrase, “What I hear you saying is…” or “Let me make sure I understand what you are saying…” and then repeat back what you heard. If you are actively listening, the logical and reasoning side of your brain is being activated, thus keeping your amygdala quiet. When the other person feels heard, their amygdala is also not activated.

Interest-based Negotiations

Instead of just thinking about what YOU want in the co-parenting negotiations, think about BOTH parties’ interests. Why do you want what you want and what do you think the other side wants? Think about things (time, money, etc.,) which you might be able to exchange to get what you want. Think about things that may be valuable to the other person, and easy for you to agree to. Conversely, what things are valuable to you and easy for your co-parent to agree to?

Offer Choices

During your preparations, think through different options that would work for you. Create two or three options that are equally feasible for you and provide these choices to your co-parenting partner when you sit down to discuss. Make sure you are one-hundred percent comfortable with each of the choices you present. If you have a preference, it is better not to present your less-desired options. 

If you ensure that you prepare for any negotiations and keep both your and your co-parent’s emotions at bay by mirroring and deep breathing, there will be a much higher likelihood of being able to get to a mutual solution to the holiday changes in your co-parenting plans. When keeping emotions at bay becomes difficult, you can always enlist the help of a mediator to help.