Going through a divorce is really heartbreaking. You have your own emotions to deal with, the anxiety of how life will change and financial stress. But if you have little ones involved, it’s even worse. You might wonder about how to tell them that mommy and daddy will not be living together anymore. You might wonder how the divorce will affect your toddler psychologically and what it will be like during the divorce with a toddler. Many things will change. For example, you might have to move homes, your child won’t see one parent as much anymore, and the stress you feel is more than likely to bounce off on your little one.
So how can you and your toddler come out of a divorce positively?
Here is all you need to know about getting a divorce with a toddler.
How will my divorce affect my toddler psychologically?
Children between the ages of 1-3 are considered toddlers. Children at this age are greatly affected by their parent’s emotions. If parents are fighting constantly, or are anxious, young children feel these turbulent emotions and know that something isn’t right. When a child senses that something is wrong, they also begin to act out. They might be needier, cry more often or even throw more tantrums. Children at this age are too little to understand why their parents are no longer together. They might experience feelings of loss and abandonment. During a divorce, toddlers might also regress. They could begin thumb sucking, or start having accidents once being potty trained. They could also start sleeping badly.
Toddlers view their parents as their whole world. You are all they know. Psychology today shows how when parents of young children get divorced, it’s almost as if you are shaking their foundation in trust. When parents get divorced, the child faces situations which lead to insecurity, and instability. Going between parents for visitations could be really hard on little ones. Small children often thrive on routine and when their routines are muddled up, they might not understand what’s going on and begin to act out. Children sometimes unknowingly develop an inner mindset that if their parents no longer love one another, does that mean that they might eventually one day, no longer love me. They also might worry about who will take care of them. Often during a divorce, one parent might be busier, hence not giving their child the same amount of attention, and the absent parent is not around as often anymore. This adds to a toddlers feelings of insecurity. Therefore, as mentioned earlier they might regress to younger “baby” behaviors in order to feel connected again to their parents. A child during the age of 18 months to 3 years old are mainly self-centered, so subconsciously, they might feel that they have caused their parents divorce.
All of this being said though, the first year after a divorce is the hardest. Many children eventually settle into new routines and there are very few children who are actually affected by a divorce for the rest of their lives. Some toddlers who come from broken homes might have trouble with having trusting relationships, or they might eventually get divorced themselves. They might also suffer from depression later on in life. But once again, this doesn’t always happen and each child and situation is different. Some children could bounce back without any issues, whereas others might struggle.
Can a divorce affect a child’s health?
Studies conducted by divorce website have shown that if children experience a great amount of stress when they are younger, the bodies immune system and stress responses might not develop normally. These children might be more prone to depression and anxiety later in life. There are other studies which show that there might be an increased risk of a stroke later in life, but these studies have also been shown to be flawed because there are other factors that could play a part, such as genetics.
Your relationship with your child might be affected.
A study done at the University of Illinois showed that children of divorced parents often have strained relationships with one parent or even no relationship later in life. This is because toddlers are at a phase where they start to develop trust in parents when their foundation is broken down, they could become distant towards their parents. Usually, children become distant to the parent that they don’t see often and this is usually the father. But at the same time, if parents make an effort to be a constant part of their children’s lives, even though there was a divorce, a child’s relationship with their parents might not be affected.
How can I help my toddler during a divorce?
Reassurance, love, and routine are the best things you can do for your little one. Reassure your toddler that you love him or her, no matter what. Tell them that you will always love them, no matter how things change. When it comes to telling your toddler about your divorce, keep it simple. Tell them that you and your spouse will live in different homes. You could say something like “mommy is going to stay with you in a different house and not with daddy now, but don’t worry, we will play with you and eat with you and read you stories and do everything that we used to do.”
If you can both keep reassuring your toddler that you both love him/her, then that will help them to cope with the changes to come. Another good idea is to only tell your toddler about the divorce when it is about to happen, not months before because a toddler doesn’t understand the concept of time.
After your divorce, you will need to give your child tons of attention. Try and keep the routine as much as possible. Play with them, read them stories and assure them of your love. Make sure that you and your ex stick to all schedules and allow your little one to see your ex as much as they want to. If they ask you if they can speak to your ex, allow them to facetime or call.
You also need to take care of yourself, as mentioned before, small children act on their parent’s emotions. If you remain calm and positive, the chances are that your little one will react in the same way. Your attitude can do a lot to help comfort your toddler. If you are having a really hard time and you can’t seem to make peace with your divorce, you could always go to therapy. If your little one also seems to be struggling, you could always take them to a therapist as well. They can help your toddler cope with their complex emotions.
So at the end of the day, divorce does affect your children. But a lot of those effects depend on how you and your spouse handle the situation. If you can both be calm, and show your child tons of love and reassurance, they will be able to cope better. Sometimes, there is no other option than to get a divorce. With lots of love, your little one will adjust positively.