Divorce can be difficult for children of all ages, but 3-year-olds are particularly susceptible to problems when their parents split up. Each year, more than a million children in the U.S. experience the divorce of their parents.
For these children, the effects of divorce tend to be similar in nature. The impact of divorce on a 3-year-old can be especially pronounced.
If you have a toddler around the age of three and you are considering divorce or are currently deeply embroiled in a court case battle, these are the signs and effects your child could exhibit. We have also included steps to potentially shield your child from conflict so that the divorce process doesn’t affect your little one quite so much.
Emotional, Mental & Psychological Effects of Divorce on a Child
The process of divorce can throw a child’s once stable home into a realm of chaos. The parents are suddenly sharing separate residences, and visitation and custody mean changing environments and routines. A child who didn’t have time to prepare for sudden changes can become anxious and uncertain as to what may come next.
Children process stress and trauma, even emotional trauma, in a variety of different ways. If your child exhibits one or more of the following symptoms, the divorce may be affecting your child more than you realize.
Thumb Sucking: The security and safety of their thumb may be sought out, particularly if your child sucked his or her thumb at an earlier age.
Bed Wetting: Your child may begin to wet the bed, seeming to reverse all efforts at potty training.
Crying More than Usual: Wailing, acting out, and seeking attention are common byproducts of a child attempting to deal with one or more powerful emotions.
Speech Problems: Your child may stutter or appear to regress with regards to vocal skills when processing the undue pressures of a parental divorce.
Child Sleep Problems: Divorce can make a child feel anxious and uneasy, which can make a good night’s sleep challenging at best. Insomnia and oversleeping can both present themselves as the effects of stress on a 3-year-old.
Withdrawing: Your child’s social skills may regress, and your child, once happy, may appear continually sad and unsettled.
How to Explain Divorce to a 3-Year Old
You can talk to your child about your divorce the moment you and your spouse come to the decision. Be honest and forthcoming and try to get down to your child’s level when explaining what’s happening and what to expect. Do your best to leave out any feelings of anger or resentment or guilt you may have and try not to blame your spouse while you’re at it.
Above all, explain that your child may have to visit mom and dad on a certain schedule and that none of this is the child’s fault. Your child should come to understand that he or she is loved by both parents no matter what.
Keep the discussion to a three-year-old’s level but be clear about any changes that are coming. When your child can prepare for any challenges, he or she will begin to trust that his or her care is in the best of hands, leading to greater feelings of stability even during these unstable times.
How to Deal with an Angry Child After Divorce
The effect of divorce on your three-year-old may bring about intense bouts of anger. Your child may break things or lash out in unexpected ways. Children going through a divorce may display vitriol at their parents and other relatives, other children, and themselves.
For most children, this anger will dissipate after a few weeks of the divorce being finalized. If the anger persists, having your child speak to a qualified specialist may be a good idea.
How to Help Your Three-Year-Old Deal with Divorce and Shield Your Child from Divorce Conflict
Ideally, you and your spouse will agree to want to protect your children from enduring any of the hardships of divorce. If you and your spouse are at odds, it can be virtually impossible to keep your child from experience at least some amount of stress.
You can do your part, with or without your spouse’s help, to minimize any stress and anxiety your child may be feeling on account of the divorce process. Here are some steps to follow.
Keep Duplicates of Favorite Things at Both Homes
Your three-year-old likely has a book, toy, or song that is close to his or her heart. By keeping exact replicas of books and toys, and by playing their favorite songs, your child can begin to feel more comfortable and at home in either parent’s newly single environment.
Keeping copies of your child’s faves also helps to prevent those times when you might forget to put an item in your child’s bag during tradeoffs. If your spouse isn’t motivated to get copies of your child’s favorite things, buy toys, books, and other items, and encourage your spouse to keep them in his or her home. Explain that it’s for your child’s benefit, which should hopefully bring about compliance.
Keep Consistent Routines
While trading your child off may initially cause stress, your child can begin to feel more at ease if you can slip into a more stable routine. Keeping to regular visitation times is an excellent start.
To ensure your child feels most at ease, cooperate with your spouse, if possible, to maintain the same home routines and discipline schedules. Keeping regular dinner and bedtimes, and disciplining for the same things, and in similar ways, can give your child the stability he or she craves. Eventually, with the right schedule, any adverse effects of divorce on your three-year-old should begin to dissipate.
Keeping at odds with your spouse may cause the problems to become worse. Therefore, it is always in your child’s best interests, especially with regards to toddlers, to cooperate with your spouse before, during, and after the divorce.
Avoid Conflict in the Presence of the Child
Whether you are speaking on the phone or you are trading off for visitation, try not to engage in arguments with your spouse. If you and your spouse absolutely cannot get along, write notes to one another instead of shouting and arguing or communicate through your divorce attorneys. As long as you can keep the peace around your three-year-old, your child should fare well while the divorce is ongoing.
Speak to an Experienced Family Attorney for an Easier Divorce on You and Your Child
The first three years of your child’s life are critical for overall development. Your child can emerge from your divorce more self-assured and resilient with your help. Your child is capable of surviving this sudden instability, but he or she will require lots of guidance and support along the way.
While children of divorce are more likely to become divorced in the future, the effects of divorce on your three-year-old don’t have to linger.
Your goal as a parent is to prevent your child from experiencing the stressors of divorce however possible. One way is to alleviate your own stress, which can be accomplished by obtaining the services of an experienced family attorney.
A family attorney can help you navigate the complexities of divorce while giving you the proper answers that you seek for questions like alimony, child support, child custody, and visitation. Your child may process divorce in various ways, but with cooperation between parents, a stable routine, and the help of a divorce lawyer, your child can fare well as you proceed with the divorce process.
If you are faced with divorce and you want to limit the effects of divorce on your three-year-old, call the offices of Griffith, Young, and Lass in Carlsbad, California. Our family attorneys can give you the compassionate advocacy you need to alleviate stress for both you and your child for an easier divorce all around. Call now to schedule a free consultation.