WHAT NOT TO SAY TO CHILDREN – BE WARY OF THE LISTENER’S EARS
“I missed you. What did you do? Was mommy nice to you? Who was there? Were they nice to you? Oh, I missed you so much!”
If you are saying any of the above things to your children after they come home from their other parent’s house, then stop. Any good parent should know not to involve children in adult discussions or to disparage the other parent in front of the children. The “your dad didn’t pay for hockey so you cannot do it,” “your dad left me and you for someone else” comments should, clearly, all be off the table for discussion with or around the children. But, all too often, our innocuous questions and comments are interpreted by children in a negative way. While we, as parents, may have every intention on asking these things for good reasons, a child’s ears do not always hear it that way. So, be wary of the listener’s ears.
Broken down below are the things you say and how your child might actually “hear” it:
|What you said||What your child heard you saying|
|I missed you!||When I am with my other parent I am hurting your feelings by being away. That makes me feel conflicted about enjoying my time with my other parent.|
|What did you do? Who was there? Where did you go?||When I come back I have to be able to relay to you everything I did and read your expression as to whether that was a good thing or a bad thing. That makes me feel like I am tattle telling on my other parent, or that I have to lie about what I did.|
|Was mommy nice to you?||Mommy is always nice to me – but now you have asked I am wondering if she really was.|
|Oh, I missed you such a lot!||Now I am really worried that when I go to my other parent’s house you are sad and lonely. That makes me anxious about leaving you.|
So, the next time your child returns home from their other parent’s home, try another tactic:
For those good days: “Hey, buddy, how’s it going? It’s good to see you looking so well! Let’s head home and get some dinner.”
For those not so good days: “Hey, buddy, how’s it going? How about we get you home, eat some food, and hang out?”
And, for those terrible days where the separation from the other parent seems inconsolable: “Hey, buddy. It looks like you’re feeling sad right now. I love you and so does [daddy/mommy]. But how about we head back to the house, grab some food, and you can tell me whatever you feel like telling me.”
There is no one size fits all solution to speaking to any child, regardless of their family situation. That said, all parents – especially divorced and separated one – always need to be wary the listener’s ears. Their minds and hearts are more tender than ours and we need to protect them.