Children of this age are exploring their environment and their imagination. They have no sense of time so the parenting plan and frequency of contact should be the same as for younger children. In addition, if one parent leaves, they may fear and worry that the other parent may leave as well.
While their parents’ proceed through the emotional and legal dissolution of marriage, the children may regress to baby behavior, thumb sucking, clinging, bed wetting, wanting to be fed, and wanting a bottle. Conflicts between the parents may lead the child to self blame, nightmares, acting out, temper tantrums, destructive behavior, withdrawing, and depression.
As with younger children, children in the age range from 3 to 5 need safety, stability, and routine. However, because of the fears caused by chaotic changes in their lives, they may also need to be able to ask questions and receive age appropriate answers to reassure them. The parents may need interventions and expert assistance from mental health professionals to explore the questions and answers with the children and how to reassure the children. Children at this age have a self-focused view of the world and suffer self blame and depression and other behaviors. If the child develops such problems with no apparent cause other than their parents’ divorce, the parents need the intervention, evaluation, education, and assistance to be able to properly parent during the divorce. The mental health professional can then assess if the child needs interventions as well.
Parenting plan options should continue to focus on predictability, routine, and structure, with cataloging of the daily schedule.
Caretaking arrangements should be consistent, stable, and predictable for the young child. Longer blocks of time may serve the child’s best interest, depending on the child and maximizing each parent’s strengths in the child’s daily routine and activities. Children at this age begin to recognize holidays and days of special meaning, which should be divided in the parenting plan beginning at this stage of the child’s development.
Where there is high conflict or impairments, use of a therapist mediator will be of greater assistance.