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How Does Divorce Affect Infants and Toddlers?

 Posted on November 19, 2015 in Divorce

infants, toddlers, Naperville divorce attorneyIf you have very young children and are facing divorce, you may be worried about the impact that separating from your spouse will have on them. Infants and toddlers have a very limited understanding of the world around them, and will likely not understand what is happening. They can, however, still be significantly impacted by stressful events like divorce. Regardless of the child’s understanding of the divorce situation, changes in a child’s environment and relationships with their parents can affect early development. Divorcing parents, with toddlers and infants, should be aware of the affects the transition can have on their child, and understand how to help them cope.

Birth to 8 Months

Even the youngest of infants can pick up on the emotions of their parents. Despite being unable to understand what a divorce entails, small infants often mirror their parents' feelings. If a parent is depressed or sad due to their divorce, their infant will likely feel depressed or sad as well. At this early stage, infants do not have much control over their own emotions, so they are easily influenced by their parent’s mood. Infants can not express their emotions by communicating, so distressed infants will likely become more fussy and are less easily comforted when a stressful event is going on in their parents' lives.

This early stage in a baby’s life is also when trust starts developing. Infants become attached to the people who feed and take care of them, and having one of them suddenly disappear is stressful. If parents divorce while their children are still infants, constant exposure to both parents is necessary. Infants do not remember things for a long time, so if one parent suddenly is absent from the child’s life, the child will be unable to remember them after a while. Sometime around 6 months after birth, on average, children begin to form stranger anxiety. They trust the people with whom they are familiar, and become nervous and upset around strangers. If a parent reappears in a small infant’s life after being absent for a while, the infant may have lost all attachment to that parent and be fearful of them.

9 to 18 Months

At this stage, children may develop separation anxiety. They often become extremely upset when a parent is leaving. The child still does not understand divorce at this age, but by now they are strongly attached to their parents, so divorce is a major stressor for them. They may scream, cry, or cling on to their parent any time they are about to be separated, and develop insecurities after separation.

A little later into development, the child may start to ask questions about their parents' situation. Hopefully the parents have developed a co-parenting plan that provides access to both parents, but this is not always the case. Children with single parents may start asking about their other parent, and start to internalize fears that they had something to do with the separation. Parents need to reassure their children that the divorce had nothing to do with them, and that sometimes things simply do not work out.


At this stage in life, children develop strong feelings, thoughts, and behaviors. They still are limited in their ability to express themselves, so the impact of their parents' divorce can show in many different ways. While toddlers brains are still developing, they have strong thoughts, but lack the ability to express them. At this stage, they are likely thinking about themselves. During a divorce, they may be worried about who will feed them or tuck them in at night. They may also worry that their parents do not love them anymore. Frequent changes in a toddler’s emotions are also common during a divorce. They may process their feelings through aggression or fear, and parents may notice mood shifts frequently. One minute, the child may be playing quietly, and, the next, extremely angry. They are feeling upset over their parents' separation, but are unable to communicate that very well.

What Can Parents Do?

Small steps taken by both parents can make the divorce process significantly easier on their young children. The first key is communication. Children, even at very young ages, need routines, so both parents should try their best to be consistent with their children, even in separate households. For example, potty training is much easier if both parents can agree on how to handle it, and both teach the child in the same manner. Separated parents do not need to do things exactly the same way, but things like meal time, bed time, and household rules should all be similar between both parents. Routines provide children with a sense of normalcy, even during tough transitions like divorce.

Parents should also reassure their children that everything they are experiencing and feeling is totally normal. While a parent may not like that their child is acting aggressively, they need to remind themselves and the child that it is healthy and necessary to process emotions. Parents can also make the transition process easier on their children. Small things like phone calls to the other parent, or packing the child’s favorite toys and blankets to each parent’s home will provide comfort to the child.

Children should be the main focus in any divorce. Add an attorney to your team who is skilled in handling these delicate matters. If you are dealing with a divorce, seek the help of a qualified Naperville divorce attorney immediately. The attorneys at Pesce Law Group, P.C. are available to assist you today. Call 630-352-2240 to get started.


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