If you and your soon-to-be ex-spouse have a baby or toddler, you may think they won’t be as impacted by your divorce as if you’d waited until they were older. However, young children still need some explanation and reassurance in a language they can understand.
Even infants can be impacted by their parents’ emotions. They know that something is wrong if their parents are yelling or crying or one parent is gone more than usual.
Signs that your child is feeling anxious
Young children (say those under 3 years old) who are feeling stress and sadness over what’s going on with their parents can exhibit a variety of behaviors, including:
- Excessive crying
- Headaches and stomachaches
- Reverting to behaviors they’d outgrown
- Showing aggression, like hitting and biting
- Withdrawing or becoming increasingly fearful
- Changes in sleeping habits or nightmares
What kind of reassurance do young children need?
It is important to explain to your child what is happening and provide reassurance in age-appropriate language. The main things to tell them are that you and their other parent will be living in separate houses but that you both still love them and will take care of them. However, do not let them cling to false hope that you’ll get back together.
A young child’s greatest fear amid parental separation is often abandonment. If they’re able to understand the parenting schedule, explain that on certain days they’ll be with you and other days they’ll be in their other parent’s home (or whatever the arrangement is.) It may be beneficial to put a copy of the schedule where they can always see it in both homes. It’s best if the parent who leaves the family home sets up the child’s room and play areas before their first visit, so they can see that they belong there.
Divorcing with a young child means that parents, at least if they’re both staying in the child’s life, need to remain in close contact. There are a lot of growing pains and milestones in these early years, and it’s best if you can share them with your co-parent if they happen at your house.
Consistency and routine are also crucial to young children. That takes communication and cooperation – whether you feel like it or not. Your family law attorney can help you work out a parenting plan to help you and your child get through these early years as successfully as possible.