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Helping your toddler understand divorce

If you’re considering filing for divorce, the last thing that is probably on your mind is explaining it to a 2- or 3-year-old child. At that age, it may seem unnecessary to explain what’s happening, because so long as your child’s routine is stable, he or she won’t understand anyway, right?

The truth is that even young children do need some explanation. During a toddler’s growing years, they understand more than you may believe. They also have few ways to express themselves and may not have the vocabulary to do so effectively.

What can you do as a parent to help your child? Here are three things to remember when you’re going through a divorce with a toddler.

1. Explain the situation in simple terms

You don’t need to explain that adultery occurred, that you or your spouse don’t love each other or that you’re angry at your child’s dad or mom. Keep things simple. Explain that you and their mom or dad will have two houses and that he or she will live at both places. You can explain that your child will have toys at both homes along with clothing and other necessities. Don’t act like this is a temporary arrangement unless it is. It’s important to say that this is how things are moving forward.

2. Teach your toddler to express his or her feelings

Many toddlers have a limited vocabulary, so it’s up to you to help them understand the words they need to use. Toddlers need black-and-white verbiage, so explain anger, happiness, sadness and frustration. Explain phrases such as “living apart” or “divorce” in a concrete way that doesn’t give your child false hope.

3. Be willing to explain each day’s possibilities

Your child is young, but he or she needs stability. Explain each morning where he or she will be during the day. Will mom or dad pick him or her up? Will he or she be sleeping at your home or the other parent’s home? Children are easily confused if their schedules aren’t a standard routine, so be sure to develop a routine that your child both understands and feels comfortable with.

It’s hard to get a divorce with a child, and for a child who is too young to understand the full impact of a divorce, it can be challenging to explain. Take your time and do your best to articulate the situation, so your child feels secure.

J. Emmette Pilgreen IV
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