Helpful Tip #5 for starting the school year: When school causes separation anxiety for the younger child of divorce



Recently a friend of mine had a child start kindergarten. This past summer this family moved from one state to another. While everything seemed to be going great the first day of school brought tears, screams and an all out tantrum of “don’t leave me.” This mom was caught off guard and did not know what to do to help her child.

Children of divorce many times will revert back to separation anxiety. There are a number of reasons for this.

  1. Unsure of what is happening between the two parents
  2. Child wonders, “If dad left, will mom leave too and not tell me?”
  3. Who is going to pick me up after school?
  4. Will dad remember it’s his week?
  5. Will mom remember it’s her week?
  6. Will grandma remember dad is out of town on business and she’s supposed to pick me up?
  7. Am I supposed to go to afterschool care today?

Their little minds whirl away but many times they won’t be whirling around learning. Their minds will be wondering a host of things. Teachers will be busy trying to get everyone into the classroom and ready for the day’s activities and learning. For the child of divorce, this can happen at the beginning of the school year or well into the year.

Life for the child of divorce can be difficult when it comes time to go to school.

Here are some tips to pass onto single parents in your church

  • Give the child a note on a pretty piece of stationary or for a boy stationary with sports or bugs on it.  The note should be short, – “Child’s name, Mommy is picking you after school today. I love you.” It should be short so the child can take it out and “read” it by his or herself.
  • If the parent that takes them to school is not picking them up, then the parent needs to put on the note the person who will be picking up the child.
  • Spray some of your favorite perfume/aftershave on a scarf or mitten/glove and allow the child to wear it to school or keep in their pocket. This will keep the parent’s scent alive around the child.
  • Give the child something special that belongs to the parent. This could be a pin, bracelet, watch, etc. Tell the child, “Take care of my pin (or whatever) until I see you after school today.” Or, “Until I pick you up from afterschool care.”
  • When leaving the house, lock the door in front of the child and then give the child a key to the house. (This can be a dummy key.) Tell the child, “Take care of this key today.” The child can wear it on a chain around their neck or clipped to their clothes.
  • Provide a special snack to have when arriving at home at the end of the day. Set the snack up in the morning; put it in the fridge and tell the child, “As soon as we get home tonight we will have a snack all ready for us to eat.” This can serve two purposes.1.  Says to the child you will return to pick them up and you will do something together.
    2. Gives the child something to snack on while dinner is being prepared.

The issue is to reassure the child the parent will return to get them after school. Physical things to touch and hold helps reassure the child the parent will not leave them and the parent still loves them.

What tips do you have for a child of divorce who is having separation anxiety?


DC4K blogs posts are great to use in training children’s leaders and volunteers and they are free.  Subscribe to the DC4K blog here.

Want to learn more about how to start a DivorceCare for Kids group for the hurting children in your community? Click here.



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