This is a guest post from Krishan Smith: senior editor and content specialist at Custody X Change, a custody software solution.
Separation anxiety affects adults and children alike. The fear of not wanting to leave the family home and finding it hard to adjust to living in two different households is natural and very real for a lot of young children. Especially as separation/divorce is different and can be a delicate, stressful time for everybody. Trust and confidence in new surroundings will develop over time just as trust in them being away from you needs to develop for you! If you’ve created a child with someone and that person is a responsible parent you need to believe that they can help raise the child you have together. Even with trust, initially you will feel anxiety during times of separation.
This anxiety doesn’t mean you have Separation Anxiety Disorder, which is a recognized mental health issue. It is classed as such as it often occurs outside of the developmental stage at which it is expected. Separation anxiety is natural for young babies, it is instinctive. However in older children whilst common it is not expected, which is why it is diagnosed as a disorder. It is the most common anxiety disorder affecting children under the age of 12. Causes of this can be genetic, physical and environmental.
Environmental reasons would include stressors such as divorce and other big life changes. To help combat environmental factors you need to create a feeling of safety and familiarity for your children in their surroundings and be prepared to modify your parenting technique. You should be consistent with your custody schedules. A predictable routine is best initially, so it is advisable to create and stick to a parenting plan. Additionally you need to reassure your child that no one has left them and no one will be leaving them! This is how you will build trust. Ensure that they are able to contact the other parent at all times if they are currently away from them, this access to communication will help them retain feelings of normalcy and family.
Avoiding Passing on Your Anxiety
How you deal with your anxiety and emotions will have an impact on your children. In order not to exacerbate their feelings, keep it together! Tranquillity is the aim and portray this feeling on the outside even if it is eating you up inside. It can help to have a friend or relative on standby to vent or be yourself around after a particularly painful goodbye. Being prepared for the goodbye is half the difficulty, especially if a prolonged period of time apart is due. Instead of spending every second prior to this moment filled with visible dread, be prepared. Be certain in your method of saying goodbye. A gesture, hug, kiss, phrase or all of the above, just stick to this structure and concentrate on executing it well.
In order to maintain a feeling of safety for your children it is imperative not to project negative emotions on to them. Anxiety in general, not just separation anxiety, can become learned behavior for kids if they are exposed to this regularly. Despite your best intentions children are adept at picking up on moods and body language, however this doesn’t mean to say you should feel guilty for your own feelings, we’re only human after all! The best preventative technique to limit this transmission is to manage your anxiety effectively. Therapy should never be out of the question and can be really helpful for the whole family’s tolerance of stress and stressful scenarios.
At times when you’ve been unable to shield your child from your emotions it can pay to re-evaluate later on and actually explain why you acted like you did, children need to realise that we’re only human too! In addition to having supportive people available for moments of anticipated stress such as goodbyes, it can also pay to follow blogs on the subject and join online forums of people going through similar situations to get their perspectives; you’re not alone!
Some parents become a stronger parenting team after separation. For those who don’t, there is still hope! Trust and anxiety management comes with time and practice, it is a learned whilst simultaneously natural process. Don’t be afraid to explain your feelings to your child when they are age appropriate, always encourage and listen to them. The same goes for your ex, respect is generally mutual and can go a long way in terms of building trust, breaking down barriers and inspiring responsible behavior.