Addressing the Needs of Small Children after a Divorce

Young Children's Needs After DivorceOne of the critical outcomes of a divorce proceeding is a custody plan that assures your children will be cared for properly. Developing plans for children under the age of two is challenging because they can’t always communicate their needs or how they are adjusting to the changes in their lives.

How a Child’s Development Impacts Custody Plans

Establishing a custody plan for children under two years old requires some understanding of how these children develop. For the most part, babies follow the following development sequence:

  • Birth to two months: These babies usually will accept any caregiver.
  • Two to six months: These babies begin to identify and prefer one caregiver.
  • Seven to 24 months: As they move through this range, children will more actively seek one preferred caregiver. Beginning at 15 months, they may resist separation from that caregiver.

Knowing where your child is in this developmental sequence and how he or she is likely to react in the future is a first step in developing an appropriate custody plan.

Determining What a Custody Plan Needs to Address

Custody plans for children in these age ranges need to focus on ensuring that their caregivers are protective and provide care that is responsive and consistent. Parents with children under two years old need to establish an environment that meets the following needs:

  • An atmosphere that is as secure and stable as possible. Children can sense how their parents are interacting. They may become distressed when faced with an environment where the parents are unresponsive to the child, argue or are abusive.
  • Consistent feeding and sleep routines. These routines help to establish an environment of stability and security.
  • Regular scheduled contact with both parents. A schedule that takes a child away from the preferred caregiver for too long may create separation anxiety. In addition, a schedule that includes too much time between contacts with each parent may prevent proper bonding.

Signs that the schedule is not meeting the needs of the child include expressions of fear, clinging, eating disorders, and problems sleeping.