Divorce & Separation Anxiety in Children

Divorce is a reality for many in the United States. Depending on the dynamics of your divorce, it might affect your children more than you expected. Children thrive on routine and when that routine is changed, separation anxiety could ensue. When you recognize the symptoms of separation anxiety, you can work both directly with your children and with your former spouse to help ease the children's anxiety.

  1. Symptoms

    • Your children may experience basic separation anxiety after divorce, or a more severe form called separation anxiety disorder (SAD). Extra crying, tantrums and clinginess are all symptoms of basic separation anxiety. As time goes on, these symptoms should improve. If they don’t, children may suffer from separation anxiety disorder. Symptoms of SAD may include fear that something terrible will happen to a loved one, concern that an event will lead to permanent separation, nightmares, refusal to go to school, reluctance to go to sleep, complaints of physical sickness and extra clinginess according to the article "Separation Anxiety in Children" from the nonprofit therapists' organization HelpGuide.

    Helping at Home

    • You can do a number of things at home to help ease children's separation anxiety. Setting up a consistent routine at home helps children feel safe and secure, easing any fears they might have. If your routine changes, discuss the planned changes ahead of time. Plan a special way to say good-bye when you are separated, but keep the good-bye relatively short. A secret handshake or good-bye kiss done every time you separate can help alleviate worry. If your children are old enough, talk about what triggers the worst anxiety and how you can rectify those situations.

    Seeking Medical Help

    • If you don't see an improvement in children's separation anxiety, it's important to seek medical help. Age-inappropriate tantrums, constant complaints of sickness, withdrawal from family and friends, refusing to go to school for weeks, feeling overwhelmed by intense fear or guilt, and excessive fear of leaving the house are all considered indicates that medial help is needed, according to HelpGuide. Your pediatrician can refer you to the appropriate help.

    Working With Your Former Spouse

    • Work with your former spouse, if possible, to create as much consistency for your children as possible. Keep to the agreed custody schedule to give your kids routine. A set schedule shows your children that each of you are there for them when they expect you to be. Enforce similar rules and discipline strategies at both houses to continue the consistency. Anticipate the children's anxiety when it's time to switch houses by talking about it and packing ahead of time to ensure nothing is forgotten. For switching houses, it's a better idea to drop your children off than have your ex-spouse pick them up -- this way, you can avoid the interruption of any special moments.

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