A toddler isn't old enough to understand abstract concepts like "marriage" and "divorce," so you'll need to keep things concrete when broaching the subject. A simple statement, such as "Mommy and Daddy make each other sad and are going to live in different places, but you make us very happy" will do. At this age, a child's main concern is how the breakup will affect her routine, so explain the situation as specifically as possible. "Mommy will live here in this house, and Daddy will live at Grandpa's house" is easier for a toddler to grasp than "Daddy is moving to Arizona." And don't forget to reassure your child that no matter where everyone lives, you and your former spouse will still be her mommy and daddy and will love her as much as always. "When my husband and I divorced, he moved to Oregon for a year. I wanted him to have a close relationship with our daughter, who was eighteen months at the time, so I made sure to talk about him frequently and to tell her how much he loves her," says one Chicago mom.
Just because toddlers can't always verbalize their emotions doesn't mean they aren't feeling them. They may become sad and withdrawn or act out their anxiety by hitting or biting. If you sense your child's upset, try to give voice to her feelings: "You look sad. I wonder if it's been tough for you not to see Daddy all the time" or "How do you feel about moving to a new house? That can be difficult."
If aggression becomes a problem, explain that it's okay to be upset that Mommy or Daddy has moved out but that it's not okay to hit. Then try to redirect the anger by encouraging your child to say "I'm mad" or to scribble an "angry" picture or pound a play hammer.
As with infants, it's wise to allow your child to have frequent visits with the noncustodial parent. Every day for an hour and a half is ideal, but two or three visits a week may be more practical. Again, young kids may have a difficult time warming up to the noncustodial parent if they're out of touch for more than a few days. If your toddler balks at going to your former spouse's house, talk about the fun she'll have there.