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Young children and divorce

Young children and divorce, some expected behaviors and simple do’s and don’ts.

Divorce and young children can be very difficult. When parents divorce the family changes. The way in which your child adjusts to the changes depends on many things. A child’s age, gender, relationship with parents, temperament and personality, amount of contact with ex-spouse and how well you handle the separation will have an effect on your child’s reaction.

One of the most important things in your child’s ability to adjust to the new family unit is your ability to continue to parent effectively. Effective parenting would include how you handle stress; protect your child from conflict and also consistent discipline and guidance in a loving manner. Of course, having supportive family members and good relationships with siblings and other relatives and friends is helpful as well. It is very important to continue to provide children with opportunities to grow and develop physically, emotionally and intellectually in any circumstances.

Keep in mind that children involved in a divorce may experience a plethora of emotions. Sadness, anxiety, anger, confusion, loneliness and possibly relief are some of the emotions children may experience. They may worry about their parents, ask a lot of questions, blame themselves, act emotionally needy and often inappropriately, have difficulties calming self and going to sleep at night, have more frequent temper-tantrums and become more aggressive. Often, children going through a divorce will need outside help, such as counseling.

Some do’s and don’ts Michigan State University Extension for parents to keep in mind are:


  • Allow questions
  • Answer questions simply
  • Express both parents’ love for the child
  • Insist that the marriage is over
  • Encourage the child to express feelings
  • Explain how life will change
  • Inform the child’s teacher/daycare worker
  • Get outside support from family members, church etc.


  • Invite the child to sleep in your bed
  • Criticize the ex-spouse
  • Encourage child to take sides
  • Use child as a confidante
  • Hide your feelings
  • Introduce a new partner too soon
  • Lie about separation/divorce

For more about family relationships visit the family section of the MSU Extension website.

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