It happens with many separated families. One parent takes the child to the other parent’s house and the child refuses to get out of the car. They cry or express their frustration through unwanted behaviours. It’s hard to watch and can be even harder to deal with.
So how might you handle it?
UNDERSTAND YOUR LEGAL OBLIGATIONS
First, understand your obligations under any existing legal directions such as parenting orders, as well as interim parenting arrangements. In the latter case, you’d be required to demonstrate that you’d take reasonable action to facilitate the meeting between the child and dad and this means you’d need to set your personal feelings aside and genuinely encourage them to see him.
Children learn from primary caregivers about what is safe. By showing your child that time with their father is a safe activity, it can help settle worries and behaviours. Some children become anxious about going to their Dad’s house and it’s helpful to calmly ask what they are worried about and providing suitable responses in a matter-of-fact way.
HOW TO MANAGE YOUR RESPONSE
Managing your response to your child’s anxiety if he/she doesn’t want to go to dad’s house is paramount because they’ll be picking up on your non-verbal cues.
For example, if you are dealing with separation anxiety, doing things like hugging them a lot, keeping them home and so on can often end up reinforcing to the child that they are only safe with you and over time, this can lead to the onset or development of other mental health conditions including school refusal.
Also, if you’re saying the right words but using a tone of voice that indicates to the child that you don’t approve of or are anxious about the visit (for example), the child can pick up on this too.
But there are many ways you can support your little one.
How to encourage your kids to go dad’s house
- Give them a token from home (like a security object such as a teddy, photo, tee shirt)
- Pack favourite snacks that they only get when they visit dad. Favourite snacks can absolutely include fun, healthy treats!
- Provide your child with a favourite activity or two. If they like reading, be sure they’ve packed their book.
- Remain calm. If you show that you are feeling anxious, children will learn to associate anxiety with going to Dad’s.
- It’s normal for children to worry that they might be missing out on things if they go to Dad’s. By keeping discussions of what you’ll be doing while they are away, low key, the children can feel more receptive to going to their fathers’.
How to keep the lines of communication open with dad
- Be reliable. If you say you will pick them up 5pm on Sunday, pick them up at 5pm on Sunday. Being reliable teaches children that they can trust you will return and that they are safe.
- When you collect your child, try and keep conversation happy and light. This helps children to settle. Some children feel worried sharing with mum that they had a good time at dad’s because they don’t want to upset you. By keeping the conversation light, your child can relax and when they relax, they’ll usually be more likely to open up and share their experience of the visit with you.
- Teaching your child mindfulness tools can be helpful because it keeps them grounded. A simple one is the Colour Poem. Ask your child ‘If the colour blue had a sound, what it would it be?’. ‘If purple had a texture, what would it feel like?’. ‘If yellow had a flavour, what it would it taste like? And so on. Activities like this engage the brain in here-and-now thinking making it a great distraction from the worry of going to dad’s (plus it’s just fun!).
- Belly breathing is another handy tool to teach children with anxiety. Have your child lie down on the couch and put their favourite teddy on their belly. As they breath in and out, they see the teddy move up and down. This teaches them about controlling their breath and moving it to the best places when they are feeling their early warning signs of anxiety.
Note: This is only general information and each family, each child, each situation is different. If you find you need more personalised support, please see your Psychologist. If you don’t have one, you can ask your doctor to recommend one in your area.