Divorce isn’t easy on anyone; it doesn’t matter how old you are. But what most people don’t know is that there are ways to make it easier… especially on little ones. Before you can make the split easier on your kids, you need to know the effects of divorce on toddlers and how to differentiate between normal toddler behaviors and divorce-related behaviors.
The Effects of Divorce on Toddlers
There’s no one-size-fits-all answer when you’re talking about the effects of divorce on toddlers, but knowing where they’re coming from is a great start.
Toddlers can understand a lot – any parent who has been thrown under the bus by a little one can attest to that (does “Mommy says *&#! when she’s driving,” or “Daddy can whistle and he whistled at a lady,” sound familiar?). Divorce, though, is another story.
Since toddlers are just beginning to grasp family dynamics, a divorce can throw them off. It’s tough for toddlers to put themselves in other people’s shoes, but they’re completely aware of the way they feel. Unfortunately, they aren’t mature enough to have developed the appropriate coping strategies.
The Way Your Toddler Acts During Divorce
It’s normal for toddlers to switch gears; one minute they’re happy and playing, and the next they’re almost uncontrollably upset. It’s also normal for them to exercise their independence by saying no and testing their limits with parents. When your toddler is stressed over divorce, you might notice:
- Increased tantrums or crying
- Changing sleep patterns
- Changing appetites
- More physical aggression
- Regression, such as loss of toilet skills or picking up thumb-sucking after quitting
- Physical symptoms like stomach aches and headaches
Combating the Effects of Divorce on Toddlers
Toddlers need consistency, and that’s particularly important during divorce. If you’re sharing custody of a toddler, you’ll need to set up a plan that ensures you’re all on the same page. The rules and limits at Dad’s house should be pretty similar to the rules and limits at Mom’s house. Toddlers benefit the most when they have clear, simple rules wherever they go.
Other things you can do to combat the effects of divorce on toddlers include:
- Making sure your toddler’s comfort items (like blankets, stuffed animals and toys) go back-and-forth between your home and your ex’s home
- Give your child enough time to say goodbye during drop-offs and pick-ups
- Let your toddler keep a picture of the other parent with them
- Encourage frequent phone calls and Skype chats
No matter what, make sure your toddler knows that he or she is loved. You can go overboard on privileges, buying toys and other things – but you can never give your toddler too much love.