Divorce can be a traumatic time for a preschooler to go through.
Being in a phase of rapid development, they are starting to gain some independence and are highly imaginative. In this phase, they are starting to learn and think about their own emotions. It can be a particularly difficult time for them to process what is going on and their place in the family.
As per family psychologist Lisa Herrick, Ph.D., research reveals that over 75% of divorcing parents talk to their children about divorce for less than ten minutes in total.
A divorce, at this age, will undoubtedly affect the child in many ways. They are primed to have strong memories about the divorce and the conversations surrounding it during this time. Although, the risks can be minimized by taking the time to plan ahead for conversations and situations to come.
Daddy's Digest has put together a few pointers to help fathers approach the subject of divorce with their preschoolers (age 3 to 4).
1. Timing plays a crucial role in how your child will process this new information. Pick a day, preferably a weekend, when your child doesn’t have to go into daycare the next day. This gives them time and space to process things in your presence.
2. If possible, try to talk to your child together with your spouse, with both of you taking turns to explain the situation at hand.
3. Be open and explain the basics in simple concrete language. Rather than talking about the causes and reasons for the dispute, focus the conversation on how it will affect them including where they will be staying and who their primary caregiver will be.
4. Some preschoolers will ask a lot of questions. Be prepared to answer all of them in advance and focus on being caring and reassuring.
5. Some children might not ask anything. Stay present and without being overbearing, allow them to express what they are going through in their own time. Remember to frequently check-in over the following days.
6. Be available to talk to them anytime they are showing signs of distress and focus on making them feel nurtured, secured and loved. Watch for signs of irritation or anxiety.
7. At this age, they are learning about cause and effect, and can often see things they have done as the reason for the divorce. Remember to regularly reassure them that this is not true and that they are not to blame.
8. Inform any teachers in advance to watch out for signs and to be extra sensitive to their needs during this time.
Our guide outlines the facts based on research from several online and offline resources. If you are in doubt or worried about your child for any reason, consult with a qualified and certified mental health professional or medical doctor.
Reviewed by: Jason Eric Ross, PhD, LMHC
Date reviewed: 29th December, 2018