Inside are steps to help you ease separation anxiety in children of divorce. These techniques have calmed my children’s anxiety after divorce and anxiety they faced through normal separation throughout their years.
After my divorce, both my children experienced separation anxiety. At times, it was relatively intense, and we caused quite a few scenes as a result. Although they both spent the majority of their time with me, their anxiety presented itself when they were leaving me.
Whether they were going to school, their father’s, or to a playdate, it didn’t matter. Their anxiety would increase, and they wouldn’t want to leave me.
My oldest was in kindergarten when I separated from her father.
She had a tough time initially. In the morning she refused to get the bus and leave me for school. She would cling to me and cause such a scene at the bus stop that I couldn’t get her physically inside the bus.
For about a month, my neighbor, who became like a grandpa to my children, would come over in the mornings and take her from my house screaming and crying and hold her at the bus stop then put her on the bus.
Eventually, she grew to love walking to the bus stop with him.
when you have no help
I’ll be forever grateful for my neighbor who stepped up to do the dirty work without being asked.
But many of us don’t have someone so selfless to step in.
And I experienced plenty of more scenes when I didn’t have anyone to step in and save the day.
The absolute worst memory was a drop off one day at the school from my car to their dad’s. My oldest refused to leave me by screaming, kicking, and yelling. Many parents leaving the school stopped to watch the scene she created.
I ignored everyone and their stares. I knew my daughter was perfectly safe, going to her dad’s and going to a loving environment. I felt if I gave into this, I’d be giving into everything.
For the next couple of years, I was unable to visit her school for lunches or class parties.
The teachers would tell me she would be so upset when I left that it just wasn’t worth it. Although it was hard for me to miss out on some of those things, I knew she was happier without seeing me at all, as opposed to me peeking in for a half-hour just to see me leave again.
Through all of this, I learned how best to deal with separation anxiety.
Techniques to Reduce Separation Anxiety In Children Of Divorce
1. A secret note
About a year after my divorce, my youngest began showing signs of separation anxiety.
Five years old at the time and just starting kindergarten, the stress came on swift and hard.
Starting school is a typical time for all children to experience separation anxiety. His teacher would email me and tell me she was concerned. He seemed unusually sad for a child his age. He wouldn’t play with the other children and just stood by her asking if he could see his older sister or go home.
He would cry each morning, and every time he had to leave me.
He didn’t throw any large fits like his sister or refuse to get on the bus; it was just tears and sadness.
I started by giving him a picture of him and me together to carry around. He liked that, but it wasn’t very convenient. He had to keep the image in his backpack, or if he was going out with his grandma or dad, he had to carry it in his hand.
Eventually, I stumbled across the idea to carry wood chips in his pocket. I bought these heart-shaped wood chips and painted them different colors.
Then I wrote different notes on each one.
Mom loves you
I love you
Mommy & Me
I would also write other family members loved him, even his dog’s names.
Each morning he would request a different love message and different color.
He would put the wood chip in his pocket.
When he was in class, out on recess, on the bus, or wherever, he would reach into his pocket and feel the heart and remind himself he was loved.
The wood chips worked so well that we kept this up for years. If I began to run out, he would have a mini-panic attack. If the bus was coming and he didn’t have his wood chip for the day, he wasn’t getting on the bus. But give him a wood chip, and off he went to school with a smile.
Eventually, his older sister began to request wood chips as well.
2. Let your child set the pace
My children also experienced separation anxiety when going over to friend’s houses.
We employed the wood chip strategy (secretly, of course) for playdates and held off on sleepovers for longer than most kids.
We invited their friends to spend the night at our house more frequently. When I knew the parents well, then we would try it, both sides prepared for midnight drives home. Otherwise, we skipped overnights for a long time.
Overall, in these cases, I found it’s much easier to let the child set the pace for overnights.
3. Evening Routines
In addition to the wood chips, each evening, we followed a consistent evening routine whenever possible.
We’d spend the last 1-2 hours before bedtime hanging out in my bed, talking, and reading together. We’d set aside time doing bible memorization as a family.
I’d spend a little time alone with each child just cuddling and talking or talking to both kids using questions like the ones below. These questions are available as a printable inside The Single Mom Toolbox.
- What was your highlight of the day?
- Did you have a low?
- Who did you sit by at lunch?
- What game did you play at recess?
- Try to trump me – test me to see if I know the answer to something you learned today.
- What is the craziest rule in school?
- Who is your favorite teacher and why?
- What do you like about riding the bus and do you not like?
- If you were principal for the day what would you do differently?
- What is one thing your teacher always says?
- What subject are you bored in?
- What is the most challenging subject for you?
- What schedule did you follow today?
- What is the funniest thing that happened at school today?
- What book is your teacher or class reading together?
- Who did you play with at recess?
- What is your favorite school lunch?
- Do you know the name of your school janitor?
- Is your class planning another school trip?
- Who is the funniest person in your class?
- What is a popular saying with your friends that you think I haven’t heard of?
- Do you have a study buddy at school?
4. Staying Calm
Your child will often feed off your emotions.
The hour before school or drop off at daycare can always be hectic. This time is often where separation anxiety presents itself. If your child is dropped off from another family member or their father in the morning, this can add to the craziness.
Adding a morning routine for stability or adding in extra time in the morning is vital.
Discussing what you have planned that evening or upcoming weekend can also help get your child’s mind onto something positive.
If your child is already in full panic mode, try asking your child left-brain questions.
Depending on their age, ask them math questions. Ask them either basic 1+1 all the way to “what is the square root of 9?” or “let’s identify all the prime numbers 1-100.”
Don’t make the questions so difficult your children need paper and pencil just appropriate enough for them to pause for a second and think.
These questions will quiet their mind and force them to think. I’ve tried this with both of my children even as teenagers and seen their breathing return to normal.
No longer do my children feel anxious when separated from me. We’re years away from the divorce, and they’re years into becoming their own functioning persons.
However, that doesn’t mean stress and anxiety stops for any of us.
As they get older, children face anxious-filled tests, new schools, teachers, first jobs, and more. If you’ve armed them with healthy ways to handle their anxiety from their earlier years after your divorce, it’ll be easier for them to self-solve issues as they grow.