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How to handle a child’s separation anxiety at a custody exchange

 Posted on August 14, 2020 in Child Custody

You love your child — and you hate to see them emotionally overwrought because of anything. That’s why it’s absolutely gut-wrenching when you have to peel their fingers off your shirt and pass them over, sobbing hysterically, to your ex-spouse for visitation.

What can you do? You know your ex-spouse isn’t a bad parent, but your child simply reacts badly to the changes that come along with the visitation schedule because of their age or stage of development right now. Here are some tips that may help your child cope:

1. Control your own anxiety

There’s a possibility that you’re actually sending your child nonverbal cues that signal your own anxiety. Maybe you just hate the thought of your child not being with you 100% of the time, or maybe you get worried that your ex-spouse won’t parent as effectively as you do. Either way, your child can pick up on your fears. That can amplify their own.

As hard as it sounds, you need to plaster on a smile and talk about their visitation time with their other parent as if it were the best possible thing that could happen to your child. That may help them reframe their own feelings and thoughts about the situation.

2. Talk to your ex-spouse about a plan

The odds are high that your ex-spouse doesn’t feel any better about the tearful exchanges than you do, so see if they are willing to work with you on some steps that will make things a little easier. Some possible ideas include:

  • Having a set routine that the child can follow in both households
  • Having a “go bag” with their favorite stuffy, toys, books and blanket that always comes along during the exchange
  • Allowing frequent phone calls or e-visitation with whichever parent the child is missing

If you try everything and the situation isn’t getting better, it may time to have some harder conversations about modifying the custody schedule a little until your child is a little older.

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