In the midst of chaos and grief – divorcing couples often discount the impact their divorce has on their youngest children. In my therapy practice, parents will often send their older children to therapy, but will report that their little ones are “doing just fine.”

My heart goes out to those little people who do not have the words or vocabulary to express how those changes are affecting them. Those little minds who may be handling the divorce well because no one explained it to them in a language they understood.


Just because toddlers can't express it, doesn't mean they aren't struggling with divorce. Please help them with these 5 steps.

When going through a divorce with your toddler there are simple and easy steps to prepare your child for change.

Here are 5 important areas to cover:

1. Explain the new living situation in simplistic, concrete terms.

Parents can get so consumed with delivering the news of their divorce, they forget to give their little ones a clear picture of how the situation will affect them. Toddlers are very concrete, literal creatures. They need to know exactly what the “divorce” means for them.

If you aren’t sure exactly what changes will be happening –just tell them what you do know. You might say something like, “I am going to live at the house and Daddy will have his own house. You will live at both places. You will have clothes and toys at this house and you will have clothes and toys at Daddy’s house.” The more details you can give – the more prepared your toddler will be. Be sure to mention the situation is permanent.

Many toddlers I have worked with described the divorce as “fun” because they are staying at a hotel or at a relative’s home. Help your child understand the permanence of the situation. Avoid sugar coating the situation with comments like, “not much will change” – as this won’t prepare your children for the reality of what is to come.

2. Use language that prepares them for the long-term.

Sometimes a parent’s grief can cause them to use soft words that do not give their child the full picture of what may be happening. Language like, “we will still be a family” and “we still love each other” may confuse a younger child who needs concrete, black and white explanations. When talking to younger children it is better to use simplistic language with a clear message. Even if you still love each other – telling a young child this can add to their confusion and give them false hope.

3. Let your child know you will never leave or “divorce” them.

Young children have no concept of divorce. The idea of someone in the family moving out is unimaginable to them. Let your child know that sometimes mommies and daddies decide to break up – just like some kids decide not to be best friends anymore. Tell them that parents do not divorce or leave their children and that you will never leave them.

4. Allow your child’s clothes, toys and comfort objects to go back and forth.

I have seen many parents get very petty when going through a divorce. Tensions are high and relationships are often strained. Do not let this strain interfere with what is right for your child. Your child needs comfort and routine through a divorce. With all the upheaval and change – toddlers need their clothes, toys and comfort objects to be the same in both homes. Down the road it is nice to get two sets of clothes and toys, but in the beginning – keep the change to a minimum.

5. Tell your child every day where they will be staying and with whom.

The biggest complaint I hear about from young children is the schedule. Little kids will tell me that they are confused about whose house they are going to each day. They don’t know who is picking them up from pre-school or daycare. Tell your child every single day what their schedule will be. Tell them in the morning and tell them before they go to bed. Make a calendar and hang it in their room. Make a red circe on the days they are with their mom and a blue circle on the days they are with their dad. This will help give your child a visual reminder of what their schedule is for the week.

Divorce is a difficult and traumatic process for the entire family. Toddlers will not often exhibit signs that they are going through a difficult time. I tell parents not to wait until their toddler is showing distress to address the divorce with them. Be proactive. Address the issues above. Stay clear and simplistic in your explanations. If your child understands how these changes will affect them – they will are much more likely to adapt sooner.


OTHER ARTICLES:  The 10 Worst Mistakes Parents Make When Getting a Divorce

To further help your child through the divorce process – I have made this $4.99 downloadable Divorce Workbook. The workbook comes with 24 exercises you can do with your child or have your child do independently. I have used this workbook in my child therapy practice for years – with great results! Click below:




Divorce books on Amazon:

Visit Anxious Toddlers’s profile on Pinterest.

26 responses to “Toddlers are the Most Ignored Victims of Divorce. 5 Ways to Help Them!”

  1. Kelly @ Mum-bo-Jumbo says:

    This is really helpful advice. Although I am not going through a divorce, I am experiencing a trial separation and this is a great help. Stopping by from Manic Mondays Blog Hop

    • Natasha Daniels says:

      Hi Kelly – I am glad you found the article helpful! I hope everything works out for you and your family 🙂

  2. Kirsten Toyne says:

    These are great tips. I have seen divorce done well and done badly. It is so sad for the children when they are trapped in the middle.

  3. MSAHA Link Up Party Week 24 says:

    […] week most viewed post was 5 Steps to Cover when going through a Divorce with a Toddler from Anxious Toddlers. I encourage you to this read well informative post. […]

  4. My Bored Toddler says:

    What a great post for those going though this situation.

  5. Nancy says:

    beautifully written!

  6. Meredith@MommyAtoZ says:

    Thanks for sharing these helpful tips at the Manic Mondays blog hop!

  7. Elizabeth (Rock-A-Bye Parents) says:

    These are some great tips. My husband and I separated a year and a half ago before our son turned 3. He dealt with it well, although he’s almost always with me so his home stability didn’t change much. Some things are just starting to click though. My ex worked nights before the separation, so my son and I didn’t see him much anyways, so things didn’t change in that sense too much. In fact my son probably sees his dad more now even though it’s not a lot by most standards. I went through a divorce as a child myself, so I think it helps that I know what it’s like to be in my son’s shoes.

    • Natasha Daniels says:

      Thanks for your comment Elizabeth. It probably helps that you can understand your child’s situation from your own personal experience. I wish you the best!

  8. Brandon Roberts says:

    I totally agree with you on your first tip. It’s important to not only talk to your toddler about the divorce, but to talk to them in simplistic terms. You need to make sure you do this, because it allows your child to get a better understanding of what is going on, and helps them feel better about the whole situation.

  9. Jordan Baker says:

    These are great tips! The only thing that I would add would be to not speak foul of your ex spouse. Children at this age are very impressionable. You don’t want them to resent their parent. They need both parents involved in their lives. If both parents are involved, the child will have a better chance of coming out of this trauma unscathed.

  10. Brandon Roberts says:

    I am so glad that I was able to find this! My friend is going through a divorce right now, and he is super worried about his son. He is 4 years old, and he wants to make sure he does what he can to be okay with it all. So thank you so much for these 5 steps. I’ll definitely make sure I show these steps to my friend, and see how much these help him out.

  11. Olivia Sherwin says:

    These are some great tips, and I appreciate your advice to use clear, honest language with your toddler when going through a divorce. I’m currently at the beginning of this process, and I have a little four-year-old daughter. Although it will be hard, I’ll definitely use clear language and let her know what exactly is going on. Thanks for sharing this great post.

  12. One of my good friends is going to be getting a divorce with her husband, and she’s really worried about this is going to affect their 4 year old son. That being said, I really appreciate you giving me some insight on things she can do to make sure her toddler gets through it all. I’ll make sure I show her these 5 steps right away! Thanks for the help.

  13. Drew says:

    It’s so important not to let your child get lost in the shuffle during a divorce. Letting them know exactly what is going on with their situation will help put their mind at ease and keep them from thinking the worst each week. Great advice.

  14. I really love the tip to let little children know that you aren’t going to “divorce” them. I never thought about how they might think something like that if their parents are getting divorced. I will have to explain that possibility to my sister so that she can talk to her four year old and make sure her daughter knows she’s not going anywhere.

  15. Hazel Owens says:

    I’m glad that you emphasized the importance of explaining the situation to your toddler in simple, black-and-white terms. Like you said, giving them false hope will just make the future harder for them. Divorce is hard enough for everyone involved without having your child misunderstand the situation. Thanks for the article.

  16. Lora says:

    Thanks for sharing

  17. Hayden Stewart says:

    This is a great article. I feel like it can be so easy to get caught up in all of your personal thing that it can be easy to neglect your child’s needs and emotions.

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