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Divorce: Problem Signs and Solutions to Help Your Preschool Child

By Jean Tracy, MSS

Preschool children react to divorce with their emotions and behaviors. Read on to learn the problem signs and how to help your child.

You Are a Concerned Parent

You have problems of your own. Are your nerves frazzled with worry? Perhaps you're angry, lonely, or low on money. Your child is showing signs of distress. Are you annoyed at times because you're already overwhelmed? That's normal. But because you love your child, you are also concerned. How can you help?

First, check out the signs. Second, consider the suggested solutions to help your preschooler deal with the divorce. The love and patience you share will help you both.

Solutions for Typical Preschool Reactions to Your Divorce:

1. Sleeping difficulties ~ waking up due to nightmares, crying, or can't sleep alone.

Consider allowing your child to sleep with you for a while.

2. Whining, aggressive behavior, and extreme upset when you leave ~

Use puppets for her to explain her feelings, not in a grown-up way but in a childlike way. (She doesn't know how to talk things out.) Let her lead with the story line. Respond appropriately to her ideas with your puppet. Allow her to act out her fears, worries, and anger.

Suggest she tell you a story. Say, "I'll write it down for you." Then ask her to draw pictures about the story. Put it in a binder as a keepsake for her.

Draw faces with different emotions and label them. Create happy, sad, angry, and worried faces. Ask her to pick out her feeling. Then listen and accept what she says. Avoid telling her she shouldn't think like that.

By using puppets, storytelling, and drawings, she'll get some relief. Your listening and acceptance will comfort her. You'll understand what she thinks and feels too.

3. Acting and feeling helpless ~ He may start acting like a younger child, cry a lot, or avoid trying new things. He wants you to hold him or do the things for him that he could do for himself.

a. Give him the comfort he needs with your hugs, kisses, and loving words.

b. Praise him when he speaks in a big-boy voice.

c. Use stars and charts for encouraging his age appropriate behaviors. Post one chart to work on at a time. Tape it on the fridge.

d. Talk about his improved behaviors. Ignore many of his slip-ups to avoid discouraging him. It will take time, so be extra patient.

Conclusion for Helping Your Preschool Child with Your Divorce

Realize that it's normal for you to feel overwhelmed. It's normal for your child too. He may whine, experience nightmares, and regress to a younger age. Consider using the suggested solutions for easing his pain and helping him grow. Be patient and loving with yourself and with him. Know that things will get better. Stay strong and hopeful.


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If your children are six to twelve-years-old, pick up Character Building: Divorce Stories and Strategies to Help Your Child Heal Each story expresses a typical problem kids experience and is an easy way for you to discuss their thoughts and feelings about the divorce. Included in each story is a strategy to lighten their hearts and lessen their pain.