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Tips on Helping Toddlers Cope with Divorce

For very young children of one to two years of age, their room, their home, their toys, their yard ARE their world. Depending on a child’s history and temperament, going to new places and doing new things at a time of parental separation can stir up feelings of anxiety and insecurity for them. Helping toddlers feel secure and at ease in new places where their other parent is not present can promote their adaptation to the changes and boost their self-esteem. Some key guidelines for the transition are pacing the changes, providing comfort as needed, providing sameness in objects and routines and access to the other parent.

What helps?

  • Calmness and attention from the parent or other adults  at each home.
  • Pacing the changes: introduce changes in location and routine slowly, one at a time. Allow them to explore a new place in their own way at their own speed. Let them go away from their first home to the new other home for short periods of several hours and gradually lengthen the time in the other new home as they become more comfortable.
  • Provide understanding and physical comfort and affection when they are having difficulty: hugs, holding hands, etc.
  • Offer snacks and their favorite foods.
  • When they are away from home, keep their basic routine much the same as when they are at home; this is especially true for mealtimes, nap and bedtimes.
  • Have pictures of the other parent available. If they use the telephone, let them to talk to the other parent when they want to, especially in the beginning of the separation. Video telephone access to the other parent can also help.
  • Reduce the number of possessions they must carry with them by duplicating or redistributing things like toys, clothes, supplies, school books; the ideal is to get to the point where there is no “suitcase”.
  • Children need favorite toys, music and videos with them at each house. They may want a certain toy to stay at Mom’s or Dad’s house. Honor their wishes whenever possible, even if a specific toy was given to them by the other parent.
  • Each child needs a bed and a space of their own for their possessions. Where circumstances do not allow for children to have a room of their own, they need to have a designated place in a closet and a bureau or cabinet for their things.
  • If possible, match as closely as possible the bed they sleep in and other objects that touch them intimately. For example, it is best if both parents use the same kind of diapers or sippy cups.
  • If the family has a pet and the child is has a good attachment to that pet, consider having the pet go back and forth to the two houses with the child. This can reduce stress for children.
  • Children’s self-management. While it is expected for some rules to be different at each parent’s home, certain expectations for young children should be the same at both houses. These rules are particularly important when children are learning to master things like eating, sleeping and toileting. For example, if a child has been toilet trained for daytime, but wears diapers at night, it is important that these routines and expectations be the same at both houses.

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