How Divorce Affects Preschool Age Children


Lonely Girl

As a three to five year old child it is hard to understand what is happening when one parent moves out of the home. Parents may have told the child they were getting a divorce and daddy (or mommy) was moving out but a child has no concept of what this means or what the word divorce means. This leaves the child in a state of confusion and wondering when daddy is coming back home.

Signs of distress

  • Exhibits regression in skills already mastered such as toilet training, sucking their thumb
  • Child may experience separation anxiety and cling to a parent or care giver
  • Younger preschool age children will whine, whimper or cry
  • Most young children will be fearful because they no longer feel safe
  • May experience nightmares
  • May experience sleeping problems such as not being able to go to sleep
  • Some will experience eating problems

Tips for parents

  • Maintain a consistent routine
  • Be gentle and calm with a smile on your face when talking to your child
  • Be reassuring by using a soft voice
  • Tell the child she is safe
  • Tell the child often that he is loved
  • Play and cuddle with the preschooler often
  • Keep visitation schedules consistent
  • Work with the other parent and communicate regularly
  • Some children act out with the parent they live but not with the parent who has left. To a child they want to make sure the other will still love him no matter what.

Tips for church workers caring for the preschool age child

  • Be consistent with schedules
  • Realize preschoolers may come in late and many times disgruntled
  • Remember they may only attend every other Sunday
  • Keep in mind that a grandparent or other care giver may bring the child to church and neither parent will attend your church
  • If possible visit the child in the home periodically to reassure the child you care
  • Have the same teacher greet the child each week upon arrival and gently move the child away from the parent and into the room (Do not have the parent sneak away as this adds to the child’s insecurity. The parent should always tell the child goodbye)
  • Be aware that some younger children will want their older sibling to be close by or know they are close. This may mean visiting the older siblings class for a few minutes
  • Preschoolers who are stressed will act out and will need boundaries
  • Realize many children come from chaotic environments and they will bring that chaos into your group
  • Allow children to take a break by providing a place away from other children where the child can look at book or hold a soft blanket (this is not a time out)
  • Realize many preschoolers will regress in their learned skills. Be prepared by always having extra sets of clothes
  • Have extra art supplies available so the preschooler can make two items, one for each home
  • Communicate often with the parent who brings the child to church and with permission from that parent, send invitations and notes about the preschooler to the other parent

Compliment the single parent for bringing his/her child to church.  Single parents of preschoolers need encouragement. They need acceptance and they need for you to understand they are doing the best they can at the moment. Reassure the single parent you are going to provide a loving and caring place for the child. Communicate with the single parent through text messages. Single parents lead a busy and often hectic life. Most don’t have time for long conversations or emails but they do need to know there is hope for their situation and there are people who care.

For God alone my soul waits in silence, for my hope is from him. Psalm 62:5

For more information about see the article “Preschool-Age Children and Divorce” Preschool Age Children and Divorce


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3 thoughts on “How Divorce Affects Preschool Age Children

  1. Great blog post, Linda. I will pass the blog address to some parents I know. I look forward to future posts.

    • Thanks Joyce. Having children’s ministers understand what these kids are experiencing is very important. Appreciate you letting those in your association know about this blog.

  2. Pingback: DC4K » Question of the week: How do I help a single parent with a young child who screams when being left on Sunday mornings?

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