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Separation anxiety and parental divorce

On Behalf of | Sep 15, 2021 | Divorce

Most children experience separation anxiety at some point – such as when they first start school, go to their first sleepover or when their parents take their first weekend away from them and leave them with a caregiver. Is it any wonder, then, that divorce can also provoke bouts of separation anxiety?

Whether your child has displayed separation anxiety in the past or not, a parental split can cause serious issues. The abrupt shift in the time they have with each parent and even having two homes can create a lot of stress for a child, no matter what their ages.

How can divorcing parents help their children deal with separation anxiety?

Many children’s separation anxiety when their parents split up is rooted in their fear that one or both of them will leave them forever. That’s why it’s wise to get your child to verbalize their specific fears if they can and address them. If the two of you can talk to your child together, explaining that they’ll be taking turns living with each of them, that can be even more reassuring than if you talk to them separately.

Here are some other strategies that can help: 

  • Stick to your parenting time schedule so your child knows what to expect.
  • Develop a routine for transitioning between homes.
  • Let your child keep a comforting toy, doll or game with them as they move between homes.
  • Minimize your own anxiety around these transitions, and don’t use this time to confront your co-parent.
  • Try to keep rules and activities in both homes as consistent as possible – at least in the early months.

Regardless of what you ultimately want your shared custody schedule to look like, it may be best in the early period of your separation to transition your child every two or three days so that they aren’t away from either parent for too long. If that’s not workable, having a video chat with your child at least once a day while they’re with their other parent may be enough to soothe them.

If none of these things work, and your child is struggling, you may need to seek counseling for your child. It’s crucial for parents to avoid blaming each other and instead focus on helping their child. Working together to develop a parenting plan with your child’s needs in mind, and modifying it as those needs change, is essential.