Preschoolers (3-5 years) most often react to their parents’ breakup with fear and guilt. They are confused.Young children are not able to understand what is going on and why. They think that if dad can leavetheir life, mom can too. They may think that if parents can stop loving each other, they can also stop loving the children. Young children often worry about who will take care of them. They worry if therewillbe enough food or money, about a houseto live in, and so on. Even babies in the firstsix months of life react with fear and stress when parents show anger. There really is no age where children are not upset by stress in a bad relationship.
Parents will often see children go back to earlier behaviors as they attempt to cope with their fears.For example, childrenmay:
• Want asecurityblanket they had previously given up.
• Have problems using the toilet after they have been toilet trained.
• Cry, cling, or disobey.
• Have night fears or fears at separation.Separation fear can also happen with babysitters or at preschool.
• Imagine strange thingsabout why one parentis gone.
• Have problems at play and they may fightmore.
• Think they caused the breakup. They may think dad or mom would not have left if they hadbehaved better.
• Hide their own feelings if a parent is very upset, afraid that they will upset the parent.
Advice for Effective Parenting
• Tell young children clearly and often that their parents will take care of them, and that mom and dad both still love them.
• Tell them they are still a family,no matter where each family member lives.
• Explain in a simple waywhy the breakuphappened. If possible, this should be done before it happens.
• Help the children know that the problems are between mom and dad, and that the breakup is not their fault.
• Give children a chance to talk about their fears. Each parent should frequently set aside time to talk to the children about how they feel.
• If possible, don’t lie or provide false hope – when children find out the truth, it can damage trust between parent and children.
• Both parents should spend lots of time with their children.
• Avoid conflict in front of the children. Young children will listen to their parents’ arguing and may think that they are to blame.
• When violence has occurred, the safety of the childrenmust be ensured. A previously violent parent can help repair the harm by setting a good example of anger control. Showing respect for the other parent can undo the damage to children who have seen violence.
Guide for Contact Frequency
• For children under three years of age, one-week of being away is too long. Their sense of time is much longer than that of older children.
• Ideally, infants should have contact with both parents every day. But it can be very difficult for children to spend a lot of time with a parent they are not bonded to. In that case, briefer contacts are best. These contacts can be made longer as the bonding between the parent and children grows, and as the children grow older.
Tips for Parenting Infants Through Separation or Divorce
Tips for Parenting 6-9 year olds through Separation or Divorce
For further reading on parenting skills, see http://www.divorce-education.com
Parents can take classes on how to reduce conflict and minimize damage to their children during separation or divorce through the Center for Divorce Education’s Children In Between program.
For more information about Online Evidence Based Education please visit at online.divorce-education.com.