Explaining Divorce to Toddlers and Young Kids

During your child’s early years, they’re learning the dynamics of familial relationships. When parents divorce and kids’ environments change—whether the children stay in the same home or not—they may exhibit symptoms of stress or express feelings they don’t quite understand. Should you explain your divorce to toddlers and young kids, or just wait and see how things pan out?

Most psychologists agree that trying to explain divorce to toddlers and young kids is a good idea. As long as you use age-appropriate language and concepts, you can give your kids the understanding they crave and help your family start healing. If you’re having a hard time figuring out what to say, talk to your Chapel Hill divorce lawyer; he or she might be able to refer you to a counselor or therapist who can help you and your kids work through this tough time.

Explaining Divorce to Toddlers
Your toddler may not understand all of what you say, but he or she is picking up on your actions, according to clinical social worker Laura Betts. It’s important to understand that toddlers don’t have a solid sense of past and future, so don’t tell them about the divorce until you’re physically acting on it—like when you or the other parent is physically moving out (as a side note, make sure you’ve discussed who will move and when with your Chapel Hill divorce lawyer in advance).

You might say something like, “Mommy and Daddy both love you. Mommy and Daddy are going to live in different houses now, and sometimes you will stay with Mommy; sometimes you will stay with Daddy.” One of the few exceptions is in a case of domestic violence. You’ll need to discuss your options with your Chapel Hill divorce lawyer before telling your kids anything, and you’ll likely tell them alone.

As your toddler slips into the routine, he or she will understand more of what you mean. Sticking to the child custody and visitation schedule you’ve worked out with your Chapel Hill divorce lawyer will help your toddler become comfortable with the situation.

Explaining Divorce to Young Children
Young children are more capable of understanding divorce than toddlers, but they need limited explanations because they lack the emotional maturity adults have earned. You should tell your young children the truth—that you are getting a divorce and that you will live in separate homes—but avoid providing them with the sordid details. You might try a short, simple explanation like “Mommy and Daddy have decided that we would like to live apart, but we will both be taking care of you and spending time with you.”

Softening the Blow for Kids of Any Age
It’s never easy to explain divorce to your kids. To many parents, kids’ reactions are heartbreaking. In order to absorb some of your kids’ confusion and hurt, be sure to:
•    reassure them that you love them
•    tell them that although adults’ feelings for each other may change, their feelings for their children never do
•    point out that some things will stay the same despite the divorce

It’s okay for you to reach out for help—this isn’t easy for anyone. Your Chapel Hill divorce lawyer might have a few professional connections with local therapists or family counselors who can help you talk to your kids about divorce. Take advantage of his or her experience and ask for a referral if you need a little help.