Obviously, there’s very little a parent can or should do by way of explaining a divorce to a child who isn’t yet verbal. A young toddler, though, is likely to require some kind of explanation if you’re divorcing and one parent is moving out.
The trick with a young toddler, Stern says, is to keep the message simplistic, fact-based, and neutral—and then repeat, repeat, repeat. Much in the same way toddlers like to read the same book or watch the same video over and over, the repetition helps them internalize the message. In practice, that might sound something like, “Daddy is going to live in a different house, and you’ll be able to visit him there.” And then when they ask where Daddy is, you reinforce with, “Daddy is in a different house now, remember? You’ll go visit Daddy at the new house soon.”
For kids this young, you get the “we’ve got you” message across by showing rather than telling. Keep meeting all their needs as consistently as you always have so they continue to feel that sense of safety and security.
Also, Stern cautions that babies and toddlers will pick up on the negative things you say about the other person through your tone, micro facial expressions, and body language—even if you think you’re masking it. So if you say something like, “Well, isn’t he such a wonderful father,” with a bright voice and fake, plastic smile, your little one is probably going to know there’s something not quite right about that.
“You don’t need to have a verbal comprehension of what’s going on to have your B.S. detector go off and say, ‘I don’t feel comfortable’ or ‘I don’t feel safe’ because something’s not adding up here,” she says.