Listening to children

There is a lot happening after separating from your partner. It can often be a time of high emotion and often high conflict. While you might be doing your best to protect your child from the impact of separation, children will often pick up on many of these emotions and experiences and might need to talk about the situation. Below are some useful guides on how to listen to your child, and understand how they feel!

What to say and what not to say
It is important to be accepting when communicating with your child rather than being dismissive. Below is a table of dismissing and accepting statements. Dismissing Accepting "You don't need to be angry. There's nothing to be scared about." Children do feel angry and scared when their parents split up. Acknowledge that this is how they feel. "Oh, come on. It's not that bad. Look at all the fun we're going to have together.Loads of people go through this and they don't feel like that: get over it!" "It looks like you're feeling worried. I'm happy to try talking about it with you -that might help." "You're overreacting." "It sounds like this is really making you sad." "There's nothing to worry about." "I understand that. Which parts of [whatever the worry is centred on, such as the separation or a house move] do you think will be difficult?" "No - that's not the right way to think about it." "That's an interesting thought. Can we try to see why you'd think that?" "You can't possibly wish for that!" "I can see why you might want that; let's think about how you see that working,or not working." The accepting statements do not make a judgement. The dismissing statements make a judgement, put down, or minimise the child's feelings and give the child the message that the feeling is not ok to have and should go away or be ignored. It is important to be accepting in these circumstances even if the child's wishes cannot in the end be met - at least they will have felt heard and understood. By listening you are not promising anything except to understand better. This will: Make it clearer for the child how to communicate effectively; Take into account the child feeling worries or scared; Shows how to talk with acceptance rather than being dismissive.
Article | Listening
Useful tips to spot how your child is feeling
Question Tip Can they put their feelings into words? If your child appears confused, suggest example feelings e.g. 'worried'. This can help them feel more in control, and allows you to get a better understanding of how they're processing your separation. It also gives you the opportunity to reassure them that what they’re feeling is normal. Does their body language give any clues about how they’re feeling? Your child's body language can offer you a better idea of how they’re feeling. For example, if they’re finding it difficult to look at you, they might be feeling nervous. When you're having a conversation with them about your separation, keep an eye on any changes in body language, like crossed arms, to identify if your child is struggling. Have they been acting differently, for example, misbehaving at school, or falling out with friends? This might mean that they’re finding it difficult to express distressing feelings about your separation. If you notice these changes in behaviour, it might be helpful to have a conversation with your child, and reassure them about how much you love them. Are they avoiding conversations about your separation? Again, this might be a clue that your child is not finding it easy to process your separation, and might need some help in expressing their feelings. Are they not responding to you? This is normal. Sometimes children want to talk to an independent person about their feelings, to avoid upsetting you. Contacting your GP, your child’s school counsellor, or other health professionals, can help if you think this might be the case. What to bear in mind Use open-ended, non-judgemental questions and accompany this with assurances of how you will listen to your child's answers.
Article | Listening
The importance of listening to your child
No matter how hard you try, children usually pick up on the negative feelings expressed by parents during their separation. This can make your child feel anxious or distressed. It is important that you listen to your child to ease as much of their worry as possible. Before you sit down with your child, it is important to acknowledge the negative feelings you have towards your partner, and set them aside. This way you can understand your child’s feelings better and respond in the best way for them. Here are three easy steps to help your child feel as comfortable as possible when talking about your separation: 1) Preparation Talking to your child about your ex-partner, before you understand how you feel, can be counter-productive. One way you can process your feelings is by writing them down, which can help you feel more in control. Another way could be having a conversation with a friend, family member, or professional. Remember that having negative feelings is normal, but you don’t want to influence the way your child thinks about their mum or dad. 2) Communication Staying calm is one of the most important things to remember when talking to your child. You don’t want them to feel like they can’t talk to you, or that they are part of the problem. Keeping your shoulders relaxed and breathing deeply can help. Keep in mind that your child might have a different viewpoint to you, and that you need to respect this. If they say something you don’t expect, try to react as little as possible, as responding negatively can stop them from talking about their worries or problems in the future. Try and let them talk as much as possible and help them by asking questions in response. Try to keep questions as neutral as possible. E.g. “Would you like to spend equal time with mummy and daddy?”, rather than, “You’d rather spend more time with me, wouldn’t you?” 3) Reassurance The final step is to end the conversation by reassuring your child. It is good to prepare what to say in advance, so that you don’t promise something you can’t deliver. Try to reassure them on things that you know will stay the same. For example, if they are worried that they might have to change school, but you know they won’t have to, use this as a reassurance. However, if spending lots of family time with both parents isn’t a possibility, don’t give them false hope.
Article | Listening