Can Divorce Cause Behavior Problems in a Toddler?

When parents divorce, a toddler’s whole world is basically turned upside-down. The actual process of a divorce typically is lengthy, especially when there are children involved. The resulting period of disruption can lead to behavioral problems in your toddler as he struggles to deal with the upheaval and anxiety of his family unit dissolving.

Arguing and Negativity

Toddlers can become argumentative in response to a divorce, says state extension specialist Kim Leon, with the University of Missouri Extension 1. With expanding language skills, you may hear “no” more from your toddler as she bristles and fights you throughout the day. Toddlers might begin pushing limits and vying for increased independence during a divorce.

Temper Tantrums

When your toddler’s secure and predictable world changes with a divorce, fear and anxiety often result. A youngster may react to this stress with increased temper tantrums, according to psychologist Daniel Pickar with the Sonoma County Medical Association 2. Excessive crying may also occur as your little one deals with the upheaval the divorce may be causing in his life.

Separation Anxiety

When one parent suddenly leaves the house, a toddler has enough awareness to notice the absence and miss the parent, even though she doesn’t understand why the parent left. Separation anxiety may manifest as increased clinginess and a resistance to separating from one or both parents, according to family life extension specialist Lesia Oesterreich of Iowa State University. Your toddler may show fear about separating, even if the parent simply walks out of the room momentarily. If overnight visitations are a part of the divorce agreement, your toddler might struggle with separation from the primary parent, cautions psychologist Peter Ernest Haiman on his website.

Sleep Issues

Sleep difficulties often accompany anxieties common for toddlers during a divorce, according to developmental psychologist Jean Mercer, writing for "Psychology Today." Sleep disturbances are likely, including difficulty going to sleep and staying asleep 5. Fatigue generally accompanies sleep disturbances, which sets the stage for additional behavioral problems, such as temper tantrums.


Regression is another common divorce reaction for young children, according to Haiman. Toilet training may backslide, and a toddler who had begun speaking may stop. Your toddler might suddenly become clumsy. An outgoing, active child could become quiet, and a spunky, free-spirited child might transform into an obedient youngster.