Age-by-Age Guide to What Children Understand About Divorce

3 to 6 Years

Preschoolers don't understand the whole notion of divorce and don't want their parents to separate -- no matter how tense the home environment. In fact, divorce is a particularly hard concept for these little "control freaks" to comprehend, because they feel as if they have no power to control the outcome.

Like toddlers, preschoolers believe they are ultimately responsible for their parents' separation. They may experience uncertain feelings about the future, keep their anger trapped inside, have unpleasant thoughts or ideas, or be plagued by nightmares.

How to ease the transition: Parents should try to handle the divorce in an open, positive manner if possible, as a child this age will reflect his parents' moods and attitudes. Preschoolers will need someone to talk to and a way to express their feelings. They may respond well to age-appropriate books about the topic. Kids this age also need to feel safe and secure and to know they will continue seeing their noncustodial parent (the one with whom they don't live on a regular basis). Set up a regular visitation schedule, and make sure it's adhered to consistently.

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