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Advice for talking to preschoolers about divorce

Adults and children view divorce very differently -- especially when you're comparing adults with young, preschool-aged children. An adult will experience different complicated facets of a divorce, but a preschooler will see it in simple, concrete terms.

While you're concerned about the long-term consequences of your ending relationship -- and trying to keep an eye on the big, positive picture -- your preschooler is worrying about whom the cat's going to live with and whether he'll ever see his dad again.

Remember this about preschoolers and divorce

Here are some important facts and issues you'll want to keep in mind when you're talking about divorce with your preschooler:

  • Your child is highly dependent on you, so any change in your life circumstance could cause your child to get worried. Also, when you're upset, your child will also be worried and upset.
  • Your child has a limited capacity to understand complicated things. He or she won't be able to anticipate the future effects of decisions and understanding feelings from an intellectual or rational perspective will not be possible.
  • The world revolves around them. It's difficult for a preschooler to look beyond him- or herself to view a situation objectively.
  • There's little distinction in your child's mind between reality and fantasy in many cases.
  • Your child will be feeling a lot but he or she won't have the capacity to talk about those feelings.

Keep a watchful eye for these warning signs

Divorcing parents should look for several warning signs in their young children so they can quickly ease the concerns of their child:

Fear, emotional instability, anger and signs of distress could be signs that your child is having a hard time dealing with his or her situation. Difficulty sleeping could also be a sign of stress, or just general irritability and whininess.

Inaccurate ideas of what happened should be addressed swiftly. Your child might believe that his dad left him, and not fully understand that his dad only left mom and that the divorce isn't about the child. It's important to help your child understand that the decision to divorce was only about the adults and that your child did not affect whether mom or dad stayed together.

An important way to support your child

Because young children are emotional sponges, they will absorb and reflect your emotional state. As such, one important way to support your children is to stay calm and peaceful, while you bring a respectful end to your marriage. Do your best to reach a civil, out-of-court settlement with your soon-to-be ex as it will greatly help your emotional health -- and the health of your child -- during the dissolution of your marriage.

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