Children of different ages and developmental stages have different abilities to understand divorce. Young children, such as infants and toddlers, may have little to no understanding about what divorce is, but this does not mean that they will be oblivious to changes at home.
Fortunately, there are ways parents can help young children cope with these changes. Every child’s response to divorce can be different. However, an understanding of common infant and toddler reactions can help you anticipate your young child’s possible reaction and consider the type of support that may benefit your child most.
How may divorce affect young children?
Babies may have no understanding of divorce, but they can feel when there is tension in their environment. This can cause them to be clingy or fussy.
Toddlers are at a developmental stage that typically involves self-centered thinking. Because of this, toddlers are likely to believe that their parent’s divorce is their fault. Also, they probably cannot fully understand what divorce is and may worry that they may become divorced from their parents.
Both babies and toddlers are likely to have difficulties expressing their feelings. As a result, they may act out or display regressive behaviors. These behaviors can include:
- Frequent crying
- Waking in the middle of the night
- Resisting toilet training
- Becoming overactive
- Reaching developmental milestones at a delay
How can parents help their kids adjust to divorce changes?
If you have a child in either age group, it can be important to maintain daily routines during and after your divorce. This may be especially important for meal times and sleep schedules. If a custody schedule will disrupt those routines, you may consider using simple language to describe those changes to your child. For example, you may tell your child that he will sleep at his dad’s house or that she will eat dinner at her mom’s house.
Sometimes, a little extra attention can even help a child during a tough time. Hugs or snuggles from you or your spouse can help reassure your child, and a special visit from a grandparent or other relative can also help remind your child that he or she is loved.
Although babies may not yet be verbal, toddlers may benefit from some help identifying words to describe their feelings. You may try to talk about feelings with your child and try to put words to his or her emotions. You may also consider reading your child age-appropriate books about divorce, which often help address feelings.
Because each child can react to divorce in a unique way, it can be challenging to predict the exact effects divorce could have on a specific child. However, common reactions among infants and toddlers can help you get an idea of the type of reactions you may expect from your young child and how you may help him or her cope with your divorce.