react to divorce differently at different ages. It is helpful for you
as a childcare provider to know what thoughts and feelings to expect at
different ages. This way you can change your behaviors to help children
of different ages adjust to the divorce.
the first years of life, children’s brains
are still developing. Children are learning to trust and form close
relationships with people who take
care of them. If parents divorce during this time, infants will not understand
what is going on. But they may notice changes in parents' energy level
and emotions. Older infants will notice that one parent is no longer living
in the home. They may cry for that parent. Infants may show their feelings
through some changes in their behavior. They may become more irritable
or fussy or cry more often. It may be hard for the parents to give the
child what she needs because they are too upset.
might be able
to understand some of the words that people use when they talk about divorce.
But it is difficult for toddlers to really understand divorce. Toddlers
live in the present. To prepare them for a divorce is difficult, because
they cannot understand the future. But they do understand that changes
are happening in their life. They know that one parent is not living at
home. Toddlers might show they are unhappy or upset about these changes
by crying often or becoming cranky and fussy. They can pout. Or they can
become aggressive with a parent or other children in the childcare setting.
They may have trouble sleeping and may throw temper tantrums. Children
do not feel guilt until around 3 ½ or 4 years, so toddlers probably
will not blame themselves for their parents’ separation.
a divorce everyone may be a bit confused. The toddler can notice this
confusion. He might also notice that his parents pay him less attention,
or that schedules have been changed. Toddlers can also start acting like
younger children. A child who had begun to walk may go back to crawling.
Children’s feelings can also show some changes. They may try to
cling or cry when parents drop them off in childcare. Children who were
comfortable and easy-going with you may now become cranky, anxious, and
quiet. On the other hand, some children may also start staying close to
adults rather than playing out in the yard with other kids. Their moods
may change, swinging between fear and anger, or they may become shy and
timid. They may also have nightmares and suck their thumbs. These are
signs that the child is feeling upset.
are some things that childcare providers can do to help infants and toddlers
during a time of divorce. You could share these suggestions with parents
who are worried about the changes that they notice in their children.
• Keep normal schedules and routines.
Encourage parents to do the same at home. Try not to change any more things
• Reassure infants and toddlers. Let
them know that you are still there. Use lots of hugs and loving words.
• Keep children's favorite toys, blankets,
or stuffed animals close at hand. If you do not allow children to bring
home to the childcare setting, look
for special toys at childcare. Find something that the child can hold
for a long time.
• Give children a little more time
to say goodbye. Ask parents to spend more time when they drop the children
• Be patient. Allow children to be
upset. Let children be babyish for a while. The more advanced behavior
• Find out what the children know
about the divorce. Ask the parents what they have said. Ask what the parents
like you to say.
• Ask the parents about their plans
for schedules and living situations. Help the child understand what will
what will not change.
• Do not change the rules just because
of the divorce. Discipline as you always would. The child needs guidelines.
• Support parents during this transition
Preschool and early elementary
from the age 3 to 10 will know that one parent no longer lives at home.
Elementary school children begin to understand that divorce means that
their parents will no longer be married and live together. They may understand
that their parents no longer love each other. Children in this age group
may blame themselves for the divorce. A child may think, “Mom and
Dad are fighting because I was bad.” Children in this stage have
a better understanding than younger children of how their lives will be
different because of the parents’ divorce. They may worry about
the changes in their daily lives. They may have nightmares. They may be
sad because of the absence of one parent. Sometimes they may be angry
with the parent who left. At other times, they may be angry with the parent
who stayed. Preschoolers may be aggressive and angry toward one or both
parents. Preschoolers and early elementary children also like to pretend.
They might make up stories about how mom and dad are going to get back
a childcare provider, there are steps you can take to help children. However,
remember to check with the parents
before you do anything to help the children. It is important that your
words and actions fit with those of the parents. This way the child will
not get clashing information and become confused.
can childcare providers do for preschool and early elementary children?
• Tell children that they are not
responsible for the divorce. You may need to say it many times.
• Explain who will take care of the
children and what changes will happen.
• Talk with children about their thoughts
and feelings; be sensitive to children's fears.
• Help both parents be involved in
the childcare, if possible.
• Do not take sides. Help the child
feel good about both parents as much as possible.
• Read books together about children
• Gently remind children that the
divorce is final and that parents will not get back together again.
children experience divorce
Go to: • Stages
of adjustment to divorce
The effect of divorce on children: What makes a difference
Explaining divorce to children
Providers talking with parents about divorce
Visitation do's and don’ts
Does the child need counseling?