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why is my child clingy and unsettled when returned to my care?

Why is my child clingy and unsettled when returned to my care?

Monday 29th of July 2019
By: Alisha Edwards, Associate, Coote Family Lawyers

Harry is quite knowledgeable and has been most helpful.  I look forward to working with him to finalise the divorce.

After parties separate and begin sharing the care of their children, it is not uncommon for us to hear of a child who "always returns unsettled and clingy" after spending time with the other parent. In the alternative, the other parent reports no obvious change in the child who is at ease and happy while in their care.

So, could it be that both parents are in fact reporting accurate experiences with the child?

Rather than a severe case of separation anxiety, the child in this example could be displaying what is known as a 'secure attachment' with both parents. 

The parent who experiences the 'happy child' does so because they are able to settle and soothe the child after the transition into their care. However, once the child returns to the parent with whom they have their primary attachment, the realisation of the recent absence causes the child to display clingy and insecure behaviours.

This phenomenon, in which both parents experience the child's reactions differently, is a common example of an 'activated attachment system' for children around 3 to 4 years of age, and is a typical response in the circumstances.

As part of our service, we can connect you with specialist child psychologists if you have concerns about your child or children following a separation.  If you require specialist advice on parenting matters, contact Coote Family Lawyers on (03) 9804 0035 or

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