As a family lawyer I am often asked about what to do if a preschool child misbehaves or acts out after visiting the non-custodial parent. Often, the custodial parent will ask me if they should reduce the amount of time the child spends with the non-custodial parent.
This behaviour is a result of the separation and is not uncommon in young children with separated or divorced parents. For some children, the change may cause the child to react with regression, aggression, and anger. Acting up can be a response to fear that the custodial parent will leave them. It could also be a result of the child feeling frustrated with the current situation and be a form of coping with this frustration.
A visit every other weekend is a dramatic reduction in parenting time for a child who is used to seeing his or her mother or father every day. A young child’s sense of time is different from ours and two weeks is a very long time to wait to see a non-custodial parent. A child may adjust better to a divorce or separation if he or she sees the non-custodial parent more frequently than once every two weeks.
It is important that both parents speak to the child to find out why he or she is acting out. Both parents need to understand that your child may not understand what is happening or what will be happening to him or her in the future. The parents should reassure the child that he or she still has two parents and that the divorce is not his or her fault. As parents, you should explain to the child what will be happening regarding the separation and try to make things as consistent and uninterrupted as possible, for example, by having the child continue the same activities and minimizing as much as possible any changes in routine.
I would encourage you to read some articles and books on the effects of separation on children and you may consider taking the course “Parenting After Separation.” If the child’s behaviour worsens, a visit to a child psychologist might be helpful.
Instead of allowing the child’s behaviour to form a wedge between the parents that will reduce the amount of time the child spends with a parent, the parents should work together to assist the child through these troubling times and encourage as much parenting time with both parents as possible for the better long-term development of the child.
You can find some helpful resources on our page “Resources for Helping Children Deal with Divorce and Separation.”
We hope this article answers the question “My young daughter is unruly and aggressive for days after she visits her mother every second weekend. What should I do?” Should you have any questions or require mediation services in developing a parenting plan that has your child’s interests at heart, please contact us at 604-449-7779.