Dear Dr. Jann: My husband and I have been separated for six months and our divorce is almost final. I’m actually starting to get used to the changes, but I’m having real trouble getting used to saying good-bye to my kids when they go to their dad’s house. Got any tips for my separation anxiety?

Dr. Jann says: After divorce it’s common for parents to experience some degree of separation anxiety, although it may not be a full-blow diagnosis. Good for you for recognizing you may be experiencing a degree of separation anxiety yourself.

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Signs to watch for:

• Feeling  needy and looking to your children for comfort.
• Feeling sick when you are completely healthy.
• Not being able to sleep in anticipation of your children leaving—and not being able to sleep while they are gone.
• Thoughts or fears about what might happen if they are not in your care even though you know they are perfectly safe with their other parent.
• Creating an environment where your kids need only you—and feeling as if only you can sooth their fears.
• Feeling as if you have no life unless your kids are with you.

Tips to Cope:

• Establish a regular routine that you can look forward to when the kids are gone. Set that time aside to pamper yourself.
•  Identify what specifically triggers your anxiety and make a special effort to curb the thoughts and behaviors associated with it. “Change your thinking to something positive” is a common phrase and an effective way to deal with anxiety.
• Keep calm during goodbyes and refrain from dwelling on and telling your child how much you will miss them. If you are anxious, your child will be also. A quick, “Have a great time, buddy!” is all that is needed. Goodbye rituals, like a secret handshake or even a phrase you both say to one another are a great way to reinforce the parent/child bond and are a signal to both of you to release the anxiety associated with leaving.
• If the anxiety is extreme, consider seeing a therapist who specializes in Cognitive Behavior Therapy (CBT) which has proven to be an effective way to combat the feelings of panic.
• Check in with your regular doctor if medication is needed temporarily.

Be proactive. Don’t put off getting help if you need it.

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About Jann Blackstone

Jann BlackstoneDr. Jann Blackstone specializes in divorce, child custody, co-parenting, and stepfamily mediation and is often called the “Relationship Expert for Today’s Relationships” because of her “real life, down-to-earth” approach to relationship problem solving. She is the author of six books on divorce and parenting, the most popular, the Ex-etiquette series featuring Ex-etiquette for Parents: Good Behavior After Divorce or Separation. She is also the author of the Ex-etiquette syndicated column and a frequent guest or consultant on television and radio talk shows, including Good Morning America (ABC), The Today Show (NBC), Keeping Kids Healthy (PBS), the Early Show (CBS), and The Oprah Winfrey Show. She has been the featured expert in many magazines, including, Child, Parents, Parenting, Newsweek, Family Circle, More, Good Housekeeping, Redbook, BRIDES, Woman’s Day, and Working Mother Magazine.

In 1999, Dr. Jann founded and became the first Director of Bonus Families®, a 501 (c) (3) non-profit organization working to change the way society views stepfamilies by supplying up-to-date co-parenting information via its Web site, counseling, mediation, and a worldwide support group network. They prefer to use the word “bonus” to the word step. Step implies negative things; however, a “bonus” is a reward for a job well done. “Bonus…a step in the right direction.”