When children move between their parents’ homes after separation or divorce, it’s not uncommon for them to experience separation anxiety — particularly if they spend most of their time at one parent’s home. The idea of going to their other parent’s house for the weekend may cause significant anxiety.
Depending on their age, this can manifest itself in tears, anger, inability to sleep and/or loss of appetite. They may try to keep their fears to themselves or they may act out.
If you’re the parent they don’t want to leave, you may feel some satisfaction in the fact that they want to stay with you. However, you know that it’s in their best interests to spend time with their other parent. It’s also what the custody order says. Therefore, assuming that there’s no reason to fear for your child’s safety or well-being at their other home, it’s up to you and your co-parent to ease this anxiety.
Talk to your child about their upcoming visit to their other home. Don’t just ask what they’re afraid of. Ask what they are looking forward to. Get them thinking positively about the visit. If their fear is about leaving you, make sure they know that even though you’ll miss them, you’ll be fine.
Often, children’s separation anxiety is caused by the change in routine. Consistency is particularly important to young children. However, older kids and teens may miss being able to kick a soccer ball around with their friends or practice the piano (even if you normally have to badger them to do it). Try to keep their routine as consistent as possible as they move between homes.
Make sure that you have a plan for when and how you and your child will talk while they’re at their other home. Arrange to video chat before bed or first thing in the morning. Work with your co-parent as much as you’re able to lessen your child’s anxiety. Try to avoid blaming each other. Your goal should be to help your child adjust to their new normal, even if that means they miss you less when they’re away.
Whatever you do, don’t let your child dictate the custody and visitation schedule. That can land you in trouble with the court. If you believe that changes really are warranted to the custody agreement, talk with your attorney to learn your options.