Divorce adds turmoil to everyone’s life and so it’s not surprising when separation anxiety surfaces in children of divorce. There are so many unknowns.
When will I see my other parent again? Am I still loved? Are you going to leave me too?
Some separation anxiety is normal. Parents can often help a child work through normal separation anxiety related to mom and dad living apart. Yet, if mild anxiety starts to progress and the child becomes increasingly distressed it is wise to promptly consult your pediatrician.
In this post we will look at some steps you can take if you start to see separation anxiety in your children. Some anxiety may be expected but if your child’s anxiety doesn’t subside or increases it a good idea to talk about it with your pediatrician.
Here are Tips for Dealing with Separation Anxiety in Children of Divorce
Understand Where the Fear Comes From
- Understand that anxiety is rooted in fear. Acknowledge that your child’s behavior such as not wanting you to leave or not wanting to leave you means that they are afraid. Take that fear seriously.
- Try to identify the specific source of that fear. What is triggering it?
- Offer reassurances to your child. If your child is old enough talk with them about what is scary.
- Make your child’s environment as stable and predictable as possible. Routines create a comfort level.
- If your young child has a special toy or blanket, be sure it is handy.
- If your child is older help him/her develop a plan for what to do when anxious feelings surface.
- Do your best to have consistent childcare. This adds stability.
Minimize Anxiety Triggers
- Until the idea of separation settles in, restrict your child’s access to scary things. Movies, even scary characters or stories on TV can increase anxiety.
- Try to schedule your departures for a time when the child is not tired. We all tend to be more emotional when we are tired.
- Be very calm when separating from your child and when rejoining your child. If you are tense or sad your child will pick up on those emotions. Leave promptly after you say good-bye.
- Sensitize teachers and caregivers to what is going on in your child’s life so that they can team with you to minimize anxiety triggers.
Reassure Your Child
- Reassure your child that you love him and that he is safe and will be fine in your absence.
- Separate from your child for short periods of time at first if possible. Gradually increase the length of time you are away.
- Partner with your child. Let the child know that life may feel scary now but that you will get through life’s changes together.
- Model feeling secure for your child. That may sound funny but your ability to cope calmly with separation and divorce will make your child feel more secure. If you need to have a melt-down, don’t do it in front of your children.
- Model faith for you child. Teach your children that God always loves them and takes care of them. Teach them songs of reassurance like “Jesus Loves Me” or other age appropriate songs of faith. Pray with your child daily.
Divorce is hard on adults, and children have far less coping skills than adults. Life’s changes can be scary for all of us, especially when uncertainty is involved. With the 12 tips above in mind you can start to move toward reducing divorce-related separation anxiety in your children. If anxiety persists or starts to increase it is wise to consult your pediatrician immediately for assistance.
“God loyal people, living honest lives, make it much easier for their children.”
Proverbs 20:7 THE MESSAGE
Get Further Tips for Helping Children Cope with Divorce
Children Coping with Your Divorce? What Parents Can Do to Help
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Adapted from a post originally published 2015