Mommy, don’t leave!

When it comes to divorce, your toddler will be the one who suffers the most.

Source: Michelle Minnaar

All too often a family goes through a divorce and the parents tend to focus on the older children, thinking that the youngest in the family (those children under the age of 3) won’t feel the effects of the divorce.

The truth is that they do feel as much, if not more, than their older siblings when it comes to a split in the family.  They might not be able to express their distress in words, but there are signs that your child is feeling the pain of divorce.  It will help to keep the following in mind.

Toddlers will notice that one parent no longer lives at home and will also be affected by the emotions of his/her siblings and parents.  They may even express empathy towards you when you are feeling sad or tearful.

Is my toddler upset?

  • They may show separation anxiety and have difficulty leaving either parent.
  • Anger may be expressed towards either or both parents.
  • Skills that the child has already developed may suddenly be lost, such as toilet training.
  • Similarly, behaviours that were outgrown may resurface, such as thumb-sucking.
  • The toddler may have trouble falling or staying asleep.  Sleeping and napping times may change.
  • Nightmares are often common.
How can I help?

You’ll need to provide physical and verbal reassurance of your love.

Try spend more time with your child when you know you are going to separate.  For example, arrive a few minutes earlier at daycare.  Use this time to reassure them that you are coming back and that you love them.  Also be sure to tell them whether you or your spouse will be fetching them.

Many young children are very distressed to find one parent waiting for them after daycare when they were expecting the other.

Don’t punish your child for old behaviours that have resurfaced or for skills that have disappeared.  Given time and support these will come right on their own.

Ensure that all caregivers understand that you are going through a divorce so that they can give special attention to your toddler when necessary.

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