Telling your children you are getting divorced is never an easy thing. Parents can do all the right things—like read books and talk to professional counselors—and they can still have a hard time getting through this conversation. As a parent, the end of your marriage is a complex, multi-faceted situation with a lot of causes that intertwine. But, children will always look at the situation from a place of self, and they tend to be concerned with concrete issues, particularly young children.

By taking the time to understand your child’s stage of development, you can better adjust your message to make your child as happy and as comfortable as possible with the news of your divorce. It still won’t be easy, but it will go more smoothly and allow you to address the issues that matter to a toddler.

What Are the Developmental Issues that Face a Child Between One and Three Years Old?

Your toddler is completely dependent upon you for their care. This means that their primary concern is likely to be who will take care of them. Their main bond is with you.

Further, they are completely unable to anticipate events in the future, understand complex situations, or understand their own feelings. The major disruption caused by the divorce will be difficult to understand and to accept.

Children this age are also extremely self-centered and are likely to think they are to blame for the circumstances that develop because of the divorce. When a parent leaves, they may think the parent left them and not that one parent left the other parent.

Be on the Lookout for These Signs

Toddlers will show their distress very clearly by becoming angry, afraid, or emotionally unstable. They will express these emotions by becoming clingy, anxious, whiny, or largely irritable. They are likely to cry more than usual and to need more attention.

It is not uncommon for them to regress in their development. You may see your toddler resist toilet training efforts, begin sucking their thumb again, grow afraid of being abandoned, and have a hard time sleeping alone each night. You may have a child who begins waking up in the middle of the night when they were previously able to make it through the entire night.

Parental Priorities

You are going to have to give your toddler the reassurance and stability that they are craving. This means you have to deliver consistent nurturing and care, even though the divorce is really taking a toll on you as well. This is a time to establish and follow routines. Work with your ex to decide on predictable routines that your toddler can follow easily. A parent should guide the toddler through meal time, play time, bath time, and bed time.

Because you have the tightest bond with your toddler that they have with anyone, they can’t escape the house and hang out with their friends. They need you to be allied with them. Give them the extra attention that they need and ask the other adults in their life to do the same. Take the time to talk about feelings in the way that he or she is able, spend time reading books together, and consistently make clear that your child is not responsible for what is happening to their life.

If your child asks questions, be sure to provide a clear answer and a concrete explanation. It’s the way your child thinks at this stage of development. They may need to know where they will live and who will look after them. Just give short answers.  


Bio: MaryAnne Seaburg is a writer and child development expert who has two wonderful sons. She has been divorced twice and knows how vital it is that children of divorce feel safe and comfortable.  She has also worked with numerous groups in treating meth addiction and other drug problems.