Advice Column, Health, Lifestyle, Parenting, Toddler

Help your toddler survive your divorce

  • Doug Berry
  • Category Advice Column, Health, Lifestyle, Parenting, Toddler

Divorce is unpleasant, emotional and can be a downright hurtful experience. The problem is that we sometimes forget that we aren’t the only ones experiencing this pain. Often our children suffer an unnecessary degree of hurt as a result of our incompatibility with our chosen partner…

Some tips:


This is a watchword for the divorcing parent! With toddlers, parents must be mindful of the need for consistency in the child’s life. This is not the time to drag them from house to house. If at all possible, they should stay in familiar surroundings with the noncustodial parent visiting there.


At this age, the toddler understands more than they are often given credit for. They can comprehend that one parent has left the home, but not understand why. At this age, their concept of time is also arbitrary. Your child may ask you when they are going to see their daddy, or why their daddy isn’t here anymore. No matter how many times you have to give them the answers, don’t get frustrated with them, as their world is very confusing at this time. This ties back into consistency, as you become their source of understanding and answers.


If you have to argue or “debate passionately”, make sure to do it in a way that doesn’t cause your child undue fear or concern. Remember, you are the adults in this situation and you have a responsibility to your child, to reduce as much harm as this separation is causing, as possible.


Toddlers often test their boundaries by saying “No” to adults or testing limits, such as hitting or throwing. This behaviour and acting out can increase during the divorce process as a result of confused boundaries and definitions in the family environment. Toddlers need clear, consistent rules (back to consistency!) that are enforced in a loving way.


Toddlers don’t have a very developed sense of empathy and tend to be concerned primarily with how their own needs are to be met. In the event of divorce, their sense of security becomes more self-oriented and their concern is about whether or not they will be secure, if they will be loved and nourished.


As your toddler becomes more aware of their own feelings, they learn to express them through words and play. As tensions increase in the household due to impending divorce, they may become more reactive. Strong feelings are hard for them to manage and moderate. Don’t forget to let them know that its ok to feel them, but remember to help them manage the intensity by proper displays of your own emotional state, as well as appropriate levels of affection and understanding towards your child.

Why do divorce rates increase?

There are several reasons that have been put forward as to why there could be an increase in the number of divorces being seen. Here are just a few!

Time of year

There is a commonly recognised trend that causes a spike in divorce numbers around January and February. The assumption here is that partners who are already discontent often reach a decisive point after having to spend prolonged holidays with their partners over the festive season. This seems to galvanise many into initiating divorce proceedings in the New Year.


With the increase in awareness of rights according to the constitution of South Africa, more women have become more empowered and are less likely to remain in abusive or undesirable relationships.  In the past, many women would remain in unhappy relationships as they felt that they did not have another option, but in current times, a better degree of knowledge and understanding of women’s’ rights could be contributing to the rise of divorce.

No-fault divorce

South African law provides for no-fault divorce based on the “irretrievable breakdown” of the marital relationship. Couples no longer need to prove that one person is at fault. They can simply say that the marriage relationship has broken down. In essence, it has become much easier to secure a divorce on clear and available legal grounds, with less procedure than in the past.

Traditional roles

In the past, traditional roles played a strong part in maintaining the marital unit. Partners did not question their lot in the marriage as openly and as a result, there was less open conflict. This is not to say that there was more happiness, merely less interpersonal disagreement. With the blurring of the definition of these roles, there is a rise in open disagreement, ending too often in divorce.

Greater social acceptance

In certain cultural groups in South Africa, divorce has long held an extremely shameful cloud over the divorcee, especially for the former wife. This has resulted in shunning and community abandonment, which served to discourage others from initiating proceedings. The more accepting the societies become of the concept; the more individuals are willing to pursue it as a route out of an undesirable marriage.

Less guilt

It is not uncommon these days for couples to wait 10 years before having children. As a result, many do not feel the same degree of guilt over “breaking up” the family unit, or over causing children distress. The disclaimer “at least there aren’t kids involved” can be heard echoing through the divorce courts.

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