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Toddlers and divorce: Simplifying the concept

Children of all ages go through divorce, and although they may seem too young to understand the implications of what’s happening, many kids do from a young age. Toddlers are particularly susceptible to the impact of a divorce, since they will have more difficulty understanding what’s happening and why it’s happening.

As a parent, it is an important task to sit down with your child and to do your best to explain what’s happening. Young children rely on routine, and if their routine is going to change, the best thing you can do is explain why and try to help your child cope.

Why is it important to talk to children about changes before they happen?

Imagine that you’re going to work every day at the same time. Then, one day, your employer tells you that you’re going to start working at another facility and won’t see the people you’ve gotten to know very often. You’d feel disrupted, to say the least. That’s the same kind of feeling that your child will have. The difference is that you, as an adult, have learned to cope with sudden changes. Children have not.

Talking to your child about changes before they happen can help your child avoid going through certain negative feelings. For example, if you sit down with your 4-year-old child and explain that they’ll have two homes now and that mom or dad will be available at each one, they’ll get the opportunity to ask questions. They will have time to process what you’ve told them.

How can you talk to a toddler about divorce?

It certainly isn’t easy to talk to a toddler about a divorce, but it’s possible to simplify the topic. For children up to the age of 5, you need to understand that they will have trouble understanding complex events or anticipating the future. They may not know how to understand their own feelings. As they get older, they gain a better understanding about their world, but the line between reality and fantasy can be blurry.

It’s important to clarify with your child that they did nothing wrong, first. Then, explain that the other parent will live somewhere else. Be honest, but try not to give too many details, since they won’t be able to understand the complex nature of the divorce.

If you need assistance explaining the situation, it’s possible to work with therapists who can help your child cope with the changes as they occur.

J. Emmette Pilgreen IV
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