The truth is, most preschoolers have no idea what the word divorce means. Your child may not even understand that there is a difference in his or her life, as long as both you and your partner are still involved in it. Older preschoolers may understand that there is a change, but will probably be more concerned about his or her own life – where your child will sleep, eat and live will probably be his or her foremost concern.
When you tell your child, you should keep it simple. Tell your child that either you or your partner will be living somewhere else, but that your child will still spend time with both of you, both in his or her ‘old’ home, and a new home.
Tell your child that you both still love him or her very much, in spite of this, and that that, and most other things in his or her life, won’t change.
It’s normal for your child to react with personality or behavioural changes to this kind of news – if he or she is old enough to understand it. Your child may be clingy, wet his or her bed, have nightmares or engage in more attention seeking behaviour. This is temporary, and since most children are resilient, it shouldn’t be too long before things get back to normal.
Try to time the breaking of the news for a time when there’s no other upheaval in your child’s life. You probably also want to make the news concrete – so instead of telling your child when you’re thinking about getting divorced, save the news for when you’re sure.
Make sure that both you and your partner are present when you tell your child. That way, he or she will understand that while you may not want to live together, you’re both still his or her parents, and will continue to love your child as you always have.
Don’t complicate the story with details, and don’t blame each other. Your child doesn’t need to worry about what went on in your relationship, other than to know that your divorce is not his or her fault.
Don’t tell your child that you and your partner don’t love each other anymore – that implies that you might stop loving your child too. You also don’t want to fight, or discuss legal issues in front of your child. Save all of that for times that your child is not around.
Most importantly, remember that no matter how angry or resentful you may be, your
child does not need to bear the brunt of that. Keep your child’s life as normal as possible, and try to be amicable with each other when your child is around.