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Authors: Nithyakala Karuppaswamy with Judith A. Myers-Walls, Ph.D., CFLE

Divorce is not an uncommon event in families. For many it is almost a normal stage in their family’s life. In any childcare setting, it is likely that some of the children will come from divorced families. Sometimes a divorce will take place while a child is enrolled in your program. Because so many children experience divorce, childcare providers should have some information on how to help children and parents through this experience.

Divorce can be a very stressful event for children, so some people wonder if it is better for parents to stay together “for the sake of the children.” Researchers have not been able to agree whether it is always better to divorce or to stay together. They do agree that both choices can be hard on children. It can be confusing for children to deal with divorce. Divorce can be a sad event for the family, or it can be a relief. In any case, it can be hard for childcare providers to know how to respond.

Most parents who decide to divorce have taken some time to reach this decision. The children might know the divorce is coming, or it may be a surprise. The children are more likely to know the divorce is coming if they are older, if the parents talk to the children about problems, or if the parents have been fighting in front of the children. As a childcare provider, you might know that parents are thinking about divorce. Even before the divorce happens, the child might be sad, angry, confused, or afraid about what is happening. The child might show those reactions in your childcare setting.

Divorce might also be an issue in childcare long after it has occurred. You might need to help a child deal with a new parent when a divorced parent remarries. In all of these situations, you may wonder how to help the child. You also might wonder how to support the parents during this time of major change in the family.

This section will give you some information on how divorce affects children of various ages and how to recognize when children are upset about something. You will get some tips on helping children through this time, some ideas about how to talk to parents, and some background on a few legal issues.

The following are some reasons why this issue can be important to you as a childcare provider.

Childcare providers can help parents notice children’s feelings.

All children are different. Some are bright and happy. Others are quiet and enjoy playing by themselves. Some argue and say what they think. Others are shy and careful. It takes only a few days for you to learn about each child’s pace and personality, and how the child behaves.

When they are upset, children may suddenly act very differently. They become “babyish,” losing a skill that they had yesterday. For example, a child who was starting to walk may go back to crawling. An easy-going child might start getting angry or fearful. Changes like these could mean that the child is feeling stress. It could mean that there is a problem between the child’s parents. But a change in the child’s behavior is not always a sign that something is wrong with the marriage. Children may show behavior changes for many reasons. The parent may have changed work hours, or the child might not be feeling well. Children respond in similar ways to many different situations. It is important to check out what the real issue is.

Childcare can be a place where things do not change as much.

It is very important for children to feel safe and loved at times of stress. Researchers have found that it is best for the child to be close to at least one parent during a divorce. That is not always possible, though. Sometimes, when parents first start the divorce process, they are too angry or hurt to be able to help the child. At that time, childcare may be the only secure place for the child. You may be the familiar, comforting figure in the child’s world—a world that is now confusing. The time spent in your childcare setting may be very important. You can provide some of the help that the parent cannot provide.

Childcare arrangements may need to change to help the parents in their new situation.

A divorce could cause major changes in the parents’ schedules. Their childcare needs may change. You may have to work with both parents. You need to know which parent will pick up the child, and who will drop him off on what days. What if a parent has a crisis on the job while the child is in his or her custody? Will you offer flexible or extended times of childcare? Should you let the child go home with the other parent? You need to know who pays for childcare, when the child will be in which home, and whom to contact during an emergency. All of these issues are important. We will try to give you help with these questions in this section.


Go to:
  • Children’s reactions to divorce – ages and stages
           • 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?
           • Resources

For more information, contact Judith A. Myers-Walls, PhD, CFLE at

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