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Breaking Divorce News to a Three-Year-Old

Toddler and Teenager Expert Advice from Carleton Kendrick, Ed.M., LCSW

Q: I'm a mother of a nearly 3 year old boy. I've recently decided to leave my husband, after about 5 years of trying to keep our marriage back together. The problem I'm encountering is I'm not sure how my son will deal with this as I've been a full time mom from the day he was born. Over the past year and a half my husband took a job working weekends only to give him more time to spend and bond with our son. By this separation/divorce, it will be more like he's losing both his parents in one big swoop. Any suggestions on the best way you see fit to handle this?

A: There will be major changes in family life that will affect your son. At this age, he cannot be expected to comprehend why you are not going to be a family unit more. You and your husband need to focus on how you both can stay connected to him in a loving, supportive manner. Perhaps some sacrificing on both your parts will need to take place during this transition. Every effort should be made to maintain his regular daily schedule. Expect some acting out as he struggles with the confusion and sadness he will feel when you are not all together on a daily basis. If you have a supportive network of family and friends, please don't hesitate to ask their help during this tough time. Since your son may feel some sense of insecurity during this separation, you can slack off a bit on the rules and limits for your son. Do not, however, take all limits off him because he needs to know that those secure guidelines are still there in the face of much confusing change.

Here are a few excellent resources for you to utilize now and after your separation/divorce is finalized:

"The Divorce Workbook: An Interactive Guide for Kids and Families," by Ives, Fassler and Lash

"My Parents Still Love Me Even Though They're Getting Divorced," by Lois V. Nightingale

"Dinosaurs Divorce: A Guide For Changing Families," by Brown and Brown

"It's Not Your Fault, Koko Bear," by Vicki Lansky (a read-together book)

Divorcing.com

As difficult as this situation will be for your son and the both of you, it appears that he has two loving parents who will make sure that he continues to feel their love.

More on: Expert Advice

Carleton Kendrick has been in private practice as a family therapist and has worked as a consultant for more than 20 years. He has conducted parenting seminars on topics ranging from how to discipline toddlers to how to stay connected with teenagers. Kendrick has appeared as an expert on national broadcast media such as CBS, Fox Television Network, Cable News Network, CNBC, PBS, and National Public Radio. In addition, he's been quoted in the New York Times, Washington Post, Chicago Tribune, Boston Globe, USA Today, Reader's Digest, BusinessWeek, Good Housekeeping, Woman's Day, and many other publications.


Please note: This "Expert Advice" area of FamilyEducation.com should be used for general information purposes only. Advice given here is not intended to provide a basis for action in particular circumstances without consideration by a competent professional. Before using this Expert Advice area, please review our General and Medical Disclaimers.

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