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Separation anxiety during visits with a non-custodial parent

One of the hardest parts about being a divorced parent is the fact that you have to divvy up your child's time with your ex-spouse. It can be excruciating, however, when your child experiences separation anxiety during those visitations.

Neither you nor your ex-spouse wants your child to suffer. Having your child cling to you or cry as you walk away isn't pleasant for you. Peeling your child away from you as they cry isn't pleasant for your ex. So, what can you do to make things better?

Here are some tips:

1. Recognize separation anxiety when you see it.

No matter what age your child is, they may experience:

  • Crying fits
  • Anxiety attacks
  • Trouble sleeping
  • Lack of appetite
  • Irritability for no obvious reason
  • Anger or frustration
  • Fearfulness

A mild crying fit occasionally probably isn't anything to worry about. However, you know your child best and you know when something is really concerning.

2. Get a conversation going.

Remember that separation anxiety is not a rational thing. However, your child feels like there's a real reason to be upset or afraid, so treat their concerns seriously.

Talk to your child about what's provoking the anxiety. Often, children are just seeking reassurance that they won't be left behind or forgotten, that everything is okay and that they can reach you if they need you.

3. Work with your ex to minimize the issues.

You can often reduce separation anxiety by doing things like matching bedtime routines in both homes, allowing the absent parent to call at bedtime and making sure that your child has his or her favorite toy or security blanket. Make sure that teens can reach their friends no matter which parent they're with and make liberal use of digital devices to stay in contact as necessary.

Finally, if the separation anxiety continues, it may be time to seek counseling or re-evaluate your custody and visitation schedule to see if some adjustments need to be made.

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