How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce p.137

A typical question about regression sounds something like this: “My daughter is four and we just told her last week that Daddy will be moving out. He has been gone for two days now. Since then, she has started to say she is the baby and use a baby voice. She even had her first potty accident in over a year. What is going on and how can I help her?”

When children are under stress or feel anxious, their behavior often regresses. You might have heard or experienced this happening when a new baby sibling arrives. During a divorce, small children become anxious about all the unexpected change in their families, and are not sure who will take care of them. Children unconsciously think that if they act like babies, they will be more likely to get cared for. Additionally, babies are not expected to make any choices or act in ways that are too difficult for them, like choosing one parent’s side over the other’s. Any potty accidents or disrupted sleep could be related to a child’s desire to be a cherished baby again, or it could be related to her increased level of anxiety immediately following the news of the divorce.

It’s important to reassure your child that your love is as strong as ever, and hopefully your child’s other parent will do the same. The news of your divorce undoubtedly came as a huge shock to your small child; there is no toddler or preschooler who can conceive of divorce as the result of even tremendous amounts of conflict. Therefore, a small child who is regressing may be feeling extremely confused and frightened.

Here are some things to tell your child, again and again:

  • When, exactly, your child will next see each co-parent (if you don’t know, try for when she will be able to talk to her other parent on the phone)
  • That your child will have a home with each parent
  • Whether her school and activities will remain the same
  • That you and her co-parent will always love her, and will always be her mommy and daddy
  • That you love your older child now as much as you did when she was a baby

Emphasize that divorce is nobody’s fault, and explain, even if you already have, that Mommy and Daddy decided they don’t want to live together anymore because they don’t get along, but that parents and children never get divorced. You can also explain that your child is a big kid now, but you still love to cuddle and hug her just like you did when she was a baby.

Reassure your child that anything she is feeling now is fine, including sad or mad, and that you are her whenever she wants to tell you about what she feels. This would also be a good time to read a picture book about divorce with your child, which can help open up a discussion about divorce and your child’s feelings.

If your child is exhibiting regression, allow her to continue in this “baby” phase for a while. Avoid showing annoyance or irritation and try to accept that this is the way your child is dealing with her sadness and worry. Giving your child extra love, reassurance, cuddles, and one-on-one playtime at this time will make a world of difference in showing that your divorce will not change your loving relationship.


Samantha Rodman – How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce p.137

How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce p.232 – Special Time

Here are some ideas for special time with young children:

  • Walk around the block
  • Go to the playground
  • Rock collecting in the backyard or park
  • Shell collecting on the beach
  • Library time
  • Frozen yogurt or ice cream shop
  • Lunch at a restaurant or picnic
  • Helping you garden
  • Helping you cook
  • Playing with Play-Doh
  • Coloring
  • Playing dolls
  • Solving puzzles
  • Pretend play
  • Listening to music and dancing
  • Making a collage
  • Making cards for family members’ birthdays or for holidays
  • Playing guessing games, like “Guess the animal I’m thinking of” or “I Spy”
  • Taking a train or a bus, just for fun
  • Feeding ducks, pigeons, or squirrels

For older children, preteens, or teenagers, activities can include:

  • Going to a movie
  • Manicure/hair salon
  • Going to a sporting event
  • Miniature golf
  • Bowling
  • Going to the mall
  • Drawing together
  • Beading
  • Helping your child organize or add to any collections
  • Building things out of LEGOs, popsicle sticks, etc.
  • Cooking together
  • Biking
  • Visiting a museum
  • Going to the zoo or aquarium
  • Playing ball
  • Painting pottery
  • Crafting
  • Running or walking together
  • Going to the gym together
  • Lunch or dinner
  • Concerts
  • Watching movies and TV
  • Playing video games together
  • Reading and discussing books together


Samantha Rodman – How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce p.232

How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce – Key Points

  • Different types of marital conflict will have different effects on how your children perceive and respond to your divorce
  • The tone of your divorce will have a great impact on your children
  • Focus on putting your child first, and realize that your own emotional functioning directly affects that of your child
  • Siblings can be resources and supports for one another, but they can also undermine each other’s ability to cope if you don’t monitor their behavior
  • It is essential to maintain your child’s relationship with both parents as well as other key family members


  • Planning your initial divorce announcement can help the conversation go more smoothly
  • It is helpful to think in advance about how you’ll answer your children’s common questions about divorce
  • Emphasize that nobody is to blame for the divorce, not either parent alone, and certainly none of the kids
  • Remember that your children crave stability and routine, and try to reassure them that you will keep things as predictable as possible
  • Make your children feel that they were, and will always be, loved and wanted
  • There are ways to change your language that will positively impact how your child views your divorce
  • No matter how your co-parent communicates with your children, you can commit to communicating the healthiest way you know how


  • Adult thoughts and feelings are for adults only
  • your child is not your confidante
  • Enmeshment, or the lack of boundaries between parents and their children, can harm your child both now and in later life
  • Do not use your child to transmit information openly or covertly between you and your co-parent
  • If you find yourself relying on your child for emotional support, turn to and adult friend, a support group, or a therapist instead


  • Unique traits and circumstances affect your child’s reaction to a divorce
  • Saddling children with many new responsibilities and roles can lead to adverse outcomes
  • Vulnerable children must have their routines kept as stable as possible
  • Siblings must be treated fairly and their relationship should be a priority


  • Emotions are not “good” or “bad”; they just are
  • If emotions are suppressed, they never truly recede
  • If expressed and accepted, emotions have a natural peak, and then they decrease
  • Accepting your emotions is just as important as accepting your child’s emotions
  • You can train yourself and your child to look for the positive in life, which will help both of you become happier and more resilient


  • Mirroring is repeating what your child has just stated, even if you don’t agree with it
  • Empathy is when you truly understand your child’s perspective
  • Validation is when you convey that your child’s feelings make sense to you
  • Mirroring, empathy, and validation can defuse many tense and difficult conversations
  • Empathy and validation can be used even in tough parenting situations like rudeness or tantrums
  • Owning your actions and apologizing for them allow your child to feel closer to you and to learn these skills for himself


  • Change your language: “co-parent” and “living with” versus “my ex” and “visits”
  • Badmouthing a co-parent is toxic for your child, both in terms of his own self-image and his ability to have a relationship with his other parent
  • Parental alienation must be dealt with as soon as it is perceived, so that a child can recover a relationship with his parent
  • Don’t use your kids as go-betweens or in any way make their lives more stressful because of your own inability to communicate respectfully with and about your co-parent
  • Empathy and validation can stop you from responding with negativity toward your co-parent even when your child complains about him or her
  • Even when violence, mental illness, or co-parent absence are involved, there are ways to handle these situations that can buffer your child from a negative psychological outcome
  • Even in the worst-case scenario of a co-parent abusing your child, remain calm and do not bash or insult your co-parent
  • Challenge yourself to get into a regular routine of making positive remarks about your co-parent


  • Toddlers and preschoolers may be very anxious and confused about divorce
  • Be honest and clear when communicating about what will happen logistically to your child
  • Be direct and empathic when dealing with any behavior issues, such as regression or tantrums
  • Reassurance and extra love are of paramount importance


  • Kids thrive on routines that allow them to focus on learning and having fun
  • There are many ways to initiate positive conversations with your school-age kids about divorce or any other difficult topic
  • Don’t force conversations or put your child on the spot
  • Understand and honor your child’s need to fit in with his peer group


  • Preteens are very focused on social concerns
  • It is normal for preteens to want to spend time away from the family, with friends and while doing other extracurricular activities
  • Now is an ideal time to teach your child positive lessons about relationships and sexuality
  • Your preteen still needs lots of love and reassurance, but not as much physical time spent together
  • Respect and empathize with your child’s concerns, even if they seem unimportant or self-involved


  • Teenage years are very difficult, even without the added stressor of divorce
  • Your relationship with your teenager is more important than stopping any behavior he is doing
  • Acknowledge your teenager’s needs and preferences, even if you don’t give in to them
  • It is normal for a teenager to want to spend more time with friends and significant others than with parents; don’t let your teenager get out of seeing you entirely, though
  • Teenagers can be dramatic and black-and-white in their thinking, and this can make them lash out viciously at one or both parents
  • Try to be involved without micromanaging your child
  • Owning your own mistakes and apologizing go a long way with teenagers
  • Teenagers rise to the occasion: The more you respect your teen, the more mature he will act
  • If you are truly scared for your teen, find her a therapist; family therapy can also help you improve your parent-child relationship


  • Your child will likely feel insecure and jealous upon meeting a parent’s new partner
  • There are ways to gently and considerably bring up the topic of you or your co-parent’s new partner
  • The way you handle initial meetings with a new partner can set the tone for his or her relationship with your kids
  • Keep in mind that your children may become newly attuned to sex, and you may have to discuss this
  • Blended family issues can be challenging, but never let your child doubt your love


  • Check-ins and daily special time with your children can make them feel loved and cherished even when you’re busy and stressed
  • Have fun with your child; not everything is a teachable moment
  • There are many small ways to show your love to your child
  • Be a realistic optimist about your ability to parent well through your divorce


Samantha Rodman – How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce