Divorce Discussion: Talking to Your Toddler About Divorce

Female toddler

You and your spouse are talking about divorce.  The yelling, the tension in the home is detrimental to the marital relationship, but your greatest fear is the effect it is having on your toddler.

Toddlers, from the age of 18 months to 3 years, thrive on routine and the comfort of both parents.  Developmentally, it is a time for them to seek out bonding with both parents, in order to feel safe and secure.  A toddler’s communication skills are limited but they do perceive a disruption in the parent’s lives.  Their mental ability is not sophisticated enough to comprehend the complexities of divorce and separation. A divorce can be perceived as abandonment of a parent and the outcome can be acting out behaviors related to anxiety.  It can manifest itself in sleeping difficulties such as nightmares, sadness, withdrawn or aggressive behaviors and infantile regression.

So, how do you talk to a toddler about divorce?  Parents can foster a positive outcome for the toddler by presenting a united front.  In simplistic and concrete terms, let the toddler know that one parent will be leaving but both parents love the child and will remain involved.  Explain the new living situation and remember that following routines lends them to feelings of security. Repetition is necessary for them to process the changes.

Children of this age will often act out their feelings when they play or draw.  By encouraging this and being attentive to this, the parents can have a better understanding of the child’s adjustment to the family change and respond accordingly.  For example, if the child is playing angry games with his stuffed animals, a parent can ask why the stuffed animals are angry.  This can be followed by questions about the child’s anger.  This will open the door to better communication.  Reading books to your child is a great opportunity for bonding and can help them address their feelings.  Choosing books about families can help a child express their emotions, so they can be discussed.

It is important for the child to see that the parents are coping with the change, as they are intuitive about picking up on their parent’s emotions.  Speak to each other with respect in front of the child.  Don’t talk to the child in a negative manner about the other parent.  Get enough sleep, be mindful of good personal hygiene and remain positive in the child’s presence.  Keep your toddler’s routine as normal as possible.  Frequent communication with your spouse will allow both of you to be proactive if emotional turmoil arises for the child and can be appropriately addressed.  Allow your toddler to bring his clothes and toys with them, as they go to each home, as these attachments mean security.

Co-parenting and talking to a toddler about divorce can be challenging.  But if both parents have the best interest of the child in mind, it is possible to raise a loving and well adjusted child.  Call the Bauer Law Office P.A., serving North Central Florida and the Panhandle.  We know the complexities of family law and will provide legal counsel to resolve your family’s issues.

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