Helping a Small Child to Understand and Adjust to Divorce

Adjust to Divorce |

Small children understand less about divorce and might not be able to communicate their fears as well as older children. The age a child is at when his or her parents divorce influences response and understanding. Here is a brief summary of what children comprehending the years before grade school and how parents can make the event less upsetting.


Babies can sense tension and may become petulant, anxious and have tantrums if it persists. Developmental delay or regressions might also occur in some cases. Maintain stability by:

  • Sticking to a consistent schedule
  • Doling out extra hugs, kisses and reassurances
  • Providing access to security stuffies and favorite toys
  • Asking trusted family and friends for help
  • Getting lots of rest so you can be on your parenting game


Mom and Dad are a toddler’s main focus, so a break-up will be hard to understand. Toddlers may regress with thumb sucking and potty training, develop fears of abandonment,beg for extra attention, or begin to have problems falling asleep or sleeping alone at night.Toddlers also think everything is about them and may think the divorce is somehow their fault. Maintain stability by:

  • Discussing feelings at their level
  • Providing assurance that the divorce is not the toddler’s fault
  • Following a clear routine
  • Paying extra attention to your child
  • Engaging in activities such as reading and playing interactive games


Preschoolers like to feel that they have power over a situation and a divorce is obviously totally out of their control. They do not understand the situation and also tend to believe that the separation is their fault. They might feel unsure about the future, have negative thoughts, repress anger or even have nightmares. Maintain stability by:

  • Being as open and positive as possible
  • Making yourself approachable so they know they can talk to you
  • Reading on-topic preschool-level books
  • Reassuring them that they are safe and secure and loved by both parents
  • Sticking to a specific visitation schedule

At all ages, providing love, reassurance, consistency and age-appropriate discussion is essential for transitioning to a new phase in life.Your child will benefit from your best effort.