My child is worried about seeing their other parent again

It is quite normal for your child to be worried about seeing other people, especially after being in lockdown or shielding. This may mean they are also worried about seeing their other parent.

The government is still encouraging children under 18 to carry on seeing both parents. This is whether there are legal or informal shared custody arrangements. Local lockdown rules do not apply to children when moving between parents’ houses.

A parent walks through a poppy field holding two children. A third child is running ahead of them.

Speaking to the co-parent

  • Stay calm. You or your child might be worried or anxious about safety or emotional wellbeing. If so, it is best to speak to the co-parent calmly about your concerns. If you will find it hard to be calm when talking to the other parent, use text or email. Try to keep a positive tone throughout.
  • Talk about what steps you can put in place. Safety measures could include social distancing, regular hand washing, or safe drop offs.
  • Focus on your child. It’s important to work out what is best for your child’s physical and emotional wellbeing. Make sure your conversations focus on your child. Discuss how you can work together as parents to support them.
  • Talk about how you can both help make your child feel less worried. Set aside your own feelings towards the co-parent and do not blame each other.
  • Remember to keep any disagreements away from your child. This will help them feel safe, secure and happy when going to see their other parent.

Helping your worried child

  • Talk to your child about what is worrying them.
  • Try not to say things like “you have to go,” “mummy/daddy will be upset if you don’t go,” or “don’t be silly, just get on with it”. These are not helpful and will add to the pressure and anxious feelings.
  • Talk about the positive things that will happen when they see their other parent.
  • Focus on the return, rather than the separation. Ask them what they liked the last time they visited and what they want to do when they visit this time. Find out what would make it easier for them. This helps them to problem solve their worries.
  • Does your child have a special toy, comforter or belonging that they could take with them? This can help them feel less worried as it gives them an element of control.
  • Show your child that you are supportive of them seeing their other parent. Listen to their worries, no matter what they are. Sometimes children can feel worried about going to the other parent because they don’t want to upset you.

Practical tips for visits

  • Routine is important for children. But you both need to be flexible with your co-parenting and contact arrangements.
  • You might need to start with shorter visits. For example, start with hour-long visits, then half days, and then sleepovers. Easing back into it can help your child get used to visits again.
  • Suggest your child writes their feelings in a notebook. They can write positive thoughts as well as their worries and anxious feelings. Encourage them to talk about what they are writing.
  • For your younger children, create a worry box to put their worries into. You could draw a worry monster together to eat their worries.
  • Children can find it hard to talk about how they are feeling but will explore them through play. Spend time with them playing. This will give them time to open up about their feelings.
  • If they are creative, try the worry tree activity.
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