If you have primary physical custody of your child, they may experience some separation anxiety before they go to your co-parent’s home. This can also happen when custody is split roughly in half but you’re still in the family home.
If your child has outgrown the tantrums and clingy behavior they may have exhibited as a toddler, it can be troubling to see them seemingly regress. However, parental separation and divorce can cause that.
A child’s separation anxiety can manifest itself in sobbing and yelling, as well as inability to eat or sleep in the hours or days leading up to their time with their other parent. Assuming that your ex has a safe and loving home and that there’s nothing for your child to fear, it’s up to you to bring some rationality to the situation.
Giving in to your child and not requiring them to go to their other home is not the solution. For one thing, it shows your child they can manipulate you. Further, if the custody agreement is in place, you’d be violating it.
Talking to your child about what they’re feeling
How you deal with your child’s separation anxiety will depend in part on their age. Assuming that they’re old enough to have a conversation on some level, get them to tell you what they’re feeling – not just what they’re afraid of. Talk about things they enjoy doing at their other parent’s house and what they have planned.
If they’re worried about you, assure them that you have a lot to do while they’re gone and that you’ll be looking forward to talking about their visit when they return. If you’ll be talking or video chatting while they’re away, go over the planned times for these communications.
Cooperation and consistency are key
Work with your ex to maintain as much consistency as possible across your homes. That can include things like similar bedtimes and mealtimes. If the child has a favorite toy or doll, make sure that goes with them. Kids should have a place in both homes they can call their own so that they don’t feel like a visitor.
Most separation anxiety will dissipate after kids get used to their new routines. However, if you and your co-parent determine that a different custody arrangement would be in your child’s best interest, your attorney can help you work on a modification.