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“My boys are refusing to go to their dads”

My two boys, aged four and six won’t go to their dad’s house. I split up with their dad three years ago because of his alcohol and gambling addictions, which have always come first with him. I think the problem has arisen because I have a new partner of just over a year. He has a son a couple of years older and they adore him. I think they’d rather stay and have fun with us as their dad doesn’t seem to make an effort to entertain them and I think they’re just bored. The last few times they youngest has run off and hid, refusing to go with him when he comes to pick them up. It’s upsetting not just to watch but it’s also causing huge tensions with my ex who isn’t the most approachable person. How can I sort this out? Eliza

Denise says:

I’m glad you realise that it has to be sorted. If you gave way to your son’s pleading… and I do understand why it’s hard not to… their father could go to court and obtain legal access. If you can manage this without the court’s intervention it will be much better all round. It’s important never to give the impression that visits to their father are optional because it’s natural for a child to resist if there’s a possibility of success. Make sure that your partner’s child is not around – I presume he lives with his mother – when your boys have to go to their father. This is not for the convenience of your ex but to make your sons feel less deprived when they have to leave. Make sure that they know exactly what you have planned while they are away and make it as humdrum as possible. For instance, cleaning the kitchen, doing the washing. In other words, let them see they are missing nothing. Tell them that once they’re home you will do something exciting together. Make it clear to her father that you completely accept his right to access, but ask him to accommodate their needs as much as he can. Perhaps making visits shorter for a while will help. Also encourage him to have exciting toys at his place that they don’t have at home. If your youngest son continues to resist going, talk to Young Minds (youngminds.org.uk, 0808 802 5544), who are experts at dealing with all the emotional problems of childhood.

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