Children hear more than we think?

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Parents who are separating may find it tempting to assume that the children are somehow unaware of the detail of the situation and that they carry on assuming everything is normal – until such a time when the parents communicate with them formally. In fact, the opposite is often true.

How often we hear the statements below which at best are untrue, but worse, can cause pain and upset to the children. Children hear a lot more than we think.

  • When friends or other family members discuss the relationship breakup the children are playing so of course they don’t hear any of the discussion.
  • Talking to others about the breakdown of a relationship is alright when the child is in the room because they are too young to understand.
  • Arguments between parents are alright because the children do not hear because they are in bed asleep or they are in another room.
  • Making derogatory comments about the other parent when the children are milling around is ok as don’t realise it is about their father or mother.

Perhaps we should look at these assumptions another way. Is it worth the risk of causing distress to our children?

  • Is it right that the children have to hear all the negative points about the other parent that they love? The parents’ relationship has ended but the child should not have to feel that they should take sides.
  • Let’s remind ourselves of the little boy who was recently in the press because his mother took him away. He was present when the mother was being interviewed by the press. Apart from the fact that it must have added to the confusion for him regarding the entire situation, it was not fair on him to hear the points made by the mother.
  • As a family lawyer I have heard it said so many times that arguments at night ‘don’t count’ as the children were in bed. This always reminds me of a report made by the children in a matter I worked on when they disclosed that they were really frightened when they would wake up in the middle of the night and hear their parents fighting and would “climb into bed together and hug teddy really tight and cry”.
  • The children may be in another room or in bed but this does not mean that they are cannot hear the arguments and are not scared or worried by them. There is a real risk that when parents say horrible things about the other parent, that the children interpret this as one parent does not love the 50% of them that is the other parent.

In summary, when people are experiencing a relationship breakdown emotions may be running high and talking about the situation in front of children may be tempting. However, it is vital to remember that children hear a lot more than we think. The risk of causing upset and long-term emotional damage to children is too high a price to pay, and parents should bear this in mind when communicating and dealing with what is a difficult and upsetting time for all.

This blog was originally written by Lauren Guy. For a consultation with a member of our specialist family law team please contact us.

2 responses on “Children hear more than we think?

  1. I am a grandmother of four grandkids aged 11, 9, 3, & 3 month old. My question is related to the two eldest as they are from one mother and the other two are same mother. Myself and my husband and our son have always had our grans with us ever holidays, birthdays and school time and school breaks. After he broke up from their mum i have usually been the mediator between her for the kids whenever they are disputes between them. Now she seems to have a dispute between her and myself, she now wants her 11yr.old to be mediator between herself and me. Where I’ve said I will not be talking through our 11yr. old. She wants to tell her things to say before deciding that if I don’t go along with it then I can do without seeing them. The kids mother has blocked all communication with the three of us. It’s now gotten so bad that the kids are saying that they don’t want to live with their mother any more ,they want to live with us .They cry everytime when they have to go home and said that they are unhappy and interrogated until they say what their mum wants to hear before they can go. Recently I was told that when her best friend comes over to play she is put on the spot to answer things about what she thinks is done/ or said to agree with her mum. She (11) and her brother (9) asked when is this going to end.? Why are we sending them back for more torture and to hell where they are sad. Please can we do something.
    Tears fill my eyes but I reassures them I’m trying to do my best to find out what I can do. .

    1. Dear Enid. Children need to feel happy and secure just enjoying their childhood. Often this includes time with extended family from both the mum and the dad?s side of the family. Perhaps the first step is to suggest mediation with the parents which can also include the children being seen separately if this is agreed and in their interests. Further information is available on the Family Mediation Council website. I hope this assists.

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