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How to handle a child's fear about visitation and custody

You and your spouse are getting a divorce. Now, you just have to explain it to the kids.

One of the hardest things divorcing parents face is the fact that they will, most likely, be separated from their children part of the time due to custody and visitation exchanges. The emotional consequences are often harder to handle once the kids start expressing their fears about the situation.

The younger your child, the more fearful they may be about visitation. They may even experience some form of separation anxiety about the situation. Here's how you can help them:

  • Make sure that your children understand that just because you and your spouse are splitting up, that you both still love them.
  • If your children are small, try to agree on some joint routines with your spouse that can be followed at both households, like a bedtime call with the missing parent or a goodnight story over Skype.
  • Make it clear that your children can reach out to you at any time. (It's important to address that issue in your parenting plan, as well.) If they're missing you, it's okay for them to pick up the phone and call you or shoot you a message in text.
  • Treat every custody exchange as a relaxed, cooperative event. Kids often take their cues from their parents. If both parents seem to be relaxed and appear to be getting along, the custody exchanges can quickly begin to feel "normal" to the kids.

It's important not to give in to your child's feelings of anxiety and skip a custody exchange. Doing so can put you in violation of your parenting plan and create significant legal problems. If your custody plan really isn't working, talk to an advocate about alternative options.

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