Talk “to” – not “at” — your child … through divorce and beyond

By Rosalind Sedacca, CCT – Guest Specialist at  Parenting Tips with Dr. Sally on “Special Interests and Q & A.”

Dr. Sally says... Enjoy this new submission by Rosalind. Read with care all that she has to say. Then check out my first comment that contains some additional related hints about talking to kids.

Most parents don’t know how to talk to their children. It’s one of the underlying reasons for parent-child communication, respect and trust issues within the family dynamic. You wouldn’t think one would need to be reminded to talk to your children. Unfortunately, many parents need just such a reminder — especially in today’s mega-paced culture in which just sitting down to a family dinner together seems to be a major accomplishment.  Too often busy parents find themselves talking “at” their children, but not “to” them. And most especially, not “with” them.

This, of course, is problematic in any family trying to raise socially, emotionally and spiritually healthy children. However, it is especially dangerous if that family is facing the challenges of divorce or separation.  If your parent-child communication skills and rapport is not optimal before discussions about divorce or family lifestyle changes come up, the likeliness of a peaceful, successful outcome is dramatically jeopardized.

For that reason, more than ever before, parents need to create a bond of trust and support with their children when the family is facing any level of upheaval.  If that respectful bond and trust is broken or tenuous, children are much more likely to feel abandoned, neglected and fearful about their safety and security in the face of separation of any kind.

Happily, it is never too late to bridge that gap and start authentic communication with your children. Honesty is always important in any parent-child relationship, but it becomes extremely significant at this time. Of course, all communication must be age-appropriate. And these talks are never a license for a dumping session about your soon-to-be former spouse. Whining, complaining, sarcasm, disrespect and related behaviors are not healthy forms of communication, especially with sensitive children.  They don’t want you to air your dirty laundry with them. They want to feel safe, loved, secure and supported as they move into a transition in life that they did not desire or create. Insulting or criticizing their other parent affects them to their core. Your children are innocent and many parents need to remind themselves of this fact again and again.

There has never been a better time than now to boost your level of communication with your children, regardless of your marital status. Share some of your own feelings and experiences with life’s challenges before you start asking them questions about their life. Knowing that you personally deal with fears, anxieties, doubts and related emotions gives your children permission to talk about those they are experiencing. It makes them feel more okay about their own insecurities. And it encourages them to talk more frankly with you about challenges they face in all facets of their life.

Take advantage of this reminder to make sincere communication with your children a regular part of your family life. You will never regret it and you will come to reap surprising rewards in the months and years ahead!

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Rosalind Sedacca, CCT is author of How Do I Tell the Kids about the Divorce? A Create-a-Storybook(TM) Guide to Preparing Your Children – with Love! For more information about this innovative new approach to that tough conversation, visit For Rosalind’s free ezine and other articles, visit




  1. Hi Rosalind,

    Thank you so very much for your contribution to “Special Interests and Q & A.” Many of our readers are very interested in divorce and helping their children to get through it. However, with all the complications of life, divorce situation or not, your point is more than well-taken. “Talking to” and not “at” children is extremely important for success with children. It shows respect. Self-esteem is at the heart of the matter. What you do, what you say, and how you say it all contribute to helping your child build it.

    Here are some tried and tested techniques for connecting with kids.

    1. Get down on your child’s level when you talk.

    2. Look at your child directly and focus even more by directing your look to your child’s left eye.

    3. Get in a similar position to the stance of your child.

    4. Speak in the same tone as that of your child’s.

    5. Use these wonderful open ended phrases to get more information from your child before considering giving advice.

    * Oh, oh, oh, tell me more about that.

    * How did that happen?

    * An then what happened?

    These are all ways to show that you believe in your child. What you think of your child is what your child will think of him or herself.

  2. Offering tips on the conversation starters is very helpful. Thanks! (Sally)

    Rosalind – The advice from your article is great and certainly timely – with the new Sesame Street show starting up soon for kids who have incarcerated parents (and oftentimes…parents who are divorced). Lots of parents will appreciate the helpful reminders here, I’m sure.

    After my own divorce it was very difficult to keep my emotions out of the chats with my son but I sure did try! 🙂

    • Thank for your kind words of support, Shara. This is certainly challenging for all parents, even more so when divorce comes into play. I’m excited about the new Sesame Street programs. There’s a special one for divorce being made available to divorce professionals throughout the U.S. which provides an excellent message and is a good jumping off point for parents to start discussions. The important thing to remember is that discussions must be on-going and continuous so your children feel heard and understood.

  3. Here is the title of an article that appeared in the Wall Street Journal this week – “A Smart Answer to the Season of ‘I’m Bored.” While it was filled with all kinds of advice, the part that stood out the most to me was this:

    ” Dr. Willis recommends parents help bored kids via ‘active listening.” Stop what you are doing and sit down to talk face-to-face, she suggests. Ask questions about what triggered the feelings, and listen closely without interrupting or making judgements, allowing moments of silence for the child to think about the solution.”

    “Talking to” and not “at” children certainly seems to have a lot of applications. Thank you again, Rosalind, for sharing your very important article with us.

    • All people, including kids, want to be “heard” and understood. So active listening is a smart tool we can all benefit from. It also shows our children how to communicate more effectively! Thanks, Sally, for sharing these additional insights.

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