Talking with Toddlers About Divorce
What to say when you and your partner are splitting up
Keep adult conversations between the adults. While it can be challenging (very!) to stay neutral about a parent when you are separating from them, it is essential for the emotional health of your child. Avoid negative statements about the other parent while the child is within ear shot—watch out for phone conversations. Kids are also notorious for overhearing conversations when you think they are in bed! This doesn’t mean you can’t give your girlfriend an earful over coffee when your child is home with grandma.
Allow your child to express feelings openly within the continued structure of consistent limits and discipline. As she develops further into the toddler years, she will increasingly use words such as mad, sad, and happy to express their feelings and it will be important for her to know that she can have a range of feelings about the divorce. In general use simple feelings words, yourself, to model for your child—remember, she’s listening!
Send your toddler with a cozy, soft stuffy, blankie etc. when he goes on visits to help him manage the transition. Let him keep those comfort items around home and in his day care settings.
Get support. Research points to two important factors in a child’s ability to manage divorce in their families: Protection from high conflict between parents and parents’ ability to cope with their own reactions to the divorce.
So, connecting with other parents in similar situations can be really helpful as you parent through this difficult time—the more you are supported, the better able you will be to support your toddler! Reach out to friends, family, your community (church, social groups, etc.), and other parents online. Some parents find going to talk with a therapist useful during this time.
Be confident in your approach with your toddler. Remember, you are creating a tone for a conversation about family that will continue in different ways throughout their development. Don’t feel like you need to say it all now! At this point, keeping things simple will be the most useful for your child.
For more info on speaking to kids about divorce and ways to connect with other parents going through this process, check out:
Great reading for separating parents of toddlers:
- Emotional Life of the Toddler
- Why Did you Have to Get a Divorce and When Can I get a Hamster? A Guide to Parenting through Divorce (An especially good book as your child gets older)
This information is intended to be a conversation starting point and not to replace consultation with a mental health professional. Knowing your child the way you do, adjust or edit this script and these recommendations to meet his or her needs and comprehension. If you have concerns about your toddler, contact your pediatrician and request a referral for a mental health professional who specializes in work with young children. Click here to find help for working with your child through this and other touchy topics.
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