If you think that your children are not mature enough to comprehend any of your adult conversations, then think again. When the family gathers around for dinner and mom and dad suddenly muster something about what they did in the bedroom, they think they can easily change the topic or find a nice segue without the kids wondering. You must not assume that they don’t have an idea about what it was, because they do.
“In my practice, parents are constantly shocked by what kids have overheard,” said family psychologist Brad Sachs, PhD, author of The Good Enough Child and The Good Enough Teen. “But as soon as children can talk, they’re listening to what you say.”
And if you think they just overheard what you and your friends were talking about in the backyard, try asking them. Allow them to talk, and you’ll realize that they were listening. Children sometimes get confused and upset by mature conversations, and they may not tell you about it, but they’re already worried by what they heard. So before your child says something to your in-laws about what you may have said, perhaps now is the time to talk more carefully.
Topics To Avoid When Kids Are Around
Don’t discuss these when little ears can hear:
- Tense topics. You need to be cautious when you want to discuss serious issues, such as finances or family problems, because your kids may be listening. They are drawn toward emotional conversations and misunderstandings. This is confirmed by Eileen Kennedy-Moore, Ph.D., an author and psychologist in Princeton, New Jersey. You think it’s okay because they don’t completely understand, but that’s exactly the problem. If they hear it and have trouble understanding what is going on, their interpretation of the topic may even be worse than what it is.
What You Can Do. If there’s something unpleasant happening at home, your children will eventually sense it no matter how hard you hide it. So maybe you can share with them the simple facts.
- Criticisms Toward Your Kids. Sometimes, when you’re too upset about your child, you impulsively share this over the phone with a friend, telling her how stubborn your kid is or divulging his mistakes to them. When your kid overhears this, he will more likely be ashamed, sad that you’re mad at him, and frustrated that he keeps on failing you.
What You Can Do. One of the common mistakes that parents do is not minding if their kids hear them talk about criticism toward them. This will have a negative impact on their confidence and perception of themselves. “It can be really hurtful if your kids overhear you criticizing them or talking about some mistake they made,” said Eileen Kennedy-Moore, PhD. “Be discreet about your kids’ indiscretions.” Avoid complaining about your children’s mistakes to others.
- Trash Talk. Don’t you care if your kids are around and you’re criticizing their teacher, ex-husband, friend, or mother?
What You Can Do. You are displaying negative behavior for your child to follow. This is why some kids think nothing’s wrong when they say something unpleasant about somebody. Or maybe you might say something cruel about someone that your child cares about. And though he might get hurt, he won’t tell you. So stop.
- Frequent Complaining. When you keep complaining about how exhausted and frustrated you are about your job, or why your husband’s job entails him to work in the evenings, you are also modeling bad behavior, and maybe your child would repeat this attitude in school – with his homework, lessons, or teachers. Obviously, this doesn’t have a good outcome.
What You Can Do. Let him hear about the positive points of your job, that no matter how exhausting it is, it’s worth it. Explain to him working or being diligent and patient has their rewards.
- Devastating World News. For your children, when they hear bad news on television, like terrorism, disasters, or robbery, they’d think these things could also happen to them any time. They would be afraid that the tsunami might come to them while they’re sleeping, or some bad guys would invade their house one evening.
What You Can Do. Some parents go to the extent of cutting their television to protect their child from depressing world events. Perhaps it would be all right not to shield your children from world events, not completely. You can make time to explain the news to them and reassuring them that they are safe with you.
- Yes, this is very common – parents swearing in front of their children. When your kids hear this, they’ll attempt to repeat it, and you should not overreact, as it will only make the word sound exciting to your child.
What You Can Do. Always avoid swearing when your kids are around and never swear AT them. If you are not able to control your outbursts, tell your children to collect a dollar from you when they hear you swear. This will make them realize that you don’t want to swear and you’ll be punished if you will.
Sometimes, no matter how careful you are, your children will end up overhearing things that you shouldn’t have allowed them to hear. A productive way to solve this is to ask them straight about what they heard, assuring them that they won’t be reprimanded if they tell you. Being proactive is also a wise move, like explaining to them in a way that is age-appropriate. If it is essential that they should not know about something, then you might as well get out of the house and go for a walk with your partner so you can talk without worrying if they’ll know.
“Parenting is a difficult job, and one in which we all make mistakes at times. Communicating effectively with our children takes time and energy,” wrote Melanie Greenberg, PhD. Open your mind and realize that your children are affected by everything they hear. You just need to approach them the right way and always, with love.