Susan Rossi Cook, Attorney and Mediator

Talking to toddlers about divorce

One of the hardest things for a parent to do is to talk to a very young child about divorce and what it means for the family. Divorces aren't always simple, and the emotional stress and turmoil may make it hard to talk about with anyone, let alone a child who may not understand.

The important thing to realize is that even a small child may feel the strain of a divorce. If you don't include your child in some way, then he or she may be thrown out of a routine and have no way to be sure what will happen next.

As thoughtful parents, it's a good idea to sit down and to have an age-appropriate conversation with your toddler. Here's a little more about how you should approach a sensitive topic with such a young child.

1. Discuss the divorce in simple terms

To start with, you may explain that you and your spouse are no longer going to live together and that you'll have different homes. You should explain that your child will see each of you (if that's the plan) and that both of you love him or her. At that point, listen to what your child has to say. If he or she brings up a concern, you should be prepared to respond to it. For instance, one family explained that their 4-year-old child asked who would look after him when they split up. While most parents and adults might think it's evidence, that's information a child might not understand without explanation.

2. Remember psychology

Children between the ages of 0 and 5 are highly dependent on their caregivers and have little ability to understand complex events. They may have trouble with expressing their feelings, too. You should sit down with your child and explore ways to express fears and emotions through art and explanation. For instance, you could say, "If you're scared, it's okay to cry." You might also opt to say, "Can you draw what you feel for me?" Your child's drawing could show his or her feelings based on the happy, or unhappy, imagery.

3. Remember to repeat yourself

Children around the toddler age do need reaffirmation. You may have to repeat yourself or explain a situation multiple times for it to sink in.

Be patient with your child and remember that this is a difficult situation for everyone, your little one included. Explaining divorce to a child isn't easy, but it's worth the effort.

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Susan Rossi Cook, Attorney and Mediator

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