Family Mediation and Listening to Your Children - Parent Connection
Listening to children – how family mediation can help
One of the most surprising things that researchers have found is how often children whose parents are separating are left with no one to confide in and no one to listen to their views.
In one study, over half the children were unable to name anyone they had been able to confide in about their worries. Divorce is an emotional upheaval for everyone involved; both parents will need to be able to talk to someone about the divorce and children also need someone to confide in.(1)
In another study, a quarter of children said no one talked to them about the separation when it happened and only 5% were given a full explanation and a chance to ask questions.(2)
Listening to children goes beyond reassuring children about their immediate concerns around the separation. Yes, they want to be told what’s happening and they need to have someone they can confide in. But in addition children want to have their say about things that affect them. What’s more, experience shows that children are more competent to take part in decision making about their families than adults usually give them credit for. Family mediation can help parents in managing children’s needs to understand and be involved in the changes happening in their family in two ways.
Child focused mediation
Child focused mediation concentrates on the needs of the child post separation – most usually this is about the parenting time arrangements but can cover any other issues affecting the child’s health, education and general welfare. A family mediator works with parents in a safe, supportive and neutral environment to help parents to communicate and make decisions concerning their children. Early on in a separation, this can include helping parents to prepare for the difficult task of explaining the separation to the children. This is especially useful if the parents are finding the process very painful and are struggling to find an explanation that leaves out fault and blame.
Child inclusive mediation
This is the same as child focused mediation but with the added extra of a ‘listening meeting’ with a specially trained mediator that children and young people are invited to. This is followed by a ‘feedback’ meeting for the parents. Importantly parents are assured that:
- their children will not be asked to make choices or decisions
- their parental authority will be respected
- children are seen only with the agreement of both parents
- the process and purpose of a “listening meeting” will be fully explained before involving children
Children who have had an opportunity to express their views and wishes about the issues affecting them post separation describe feeling relieved and much less anxious. In addition the ‘listening meeting’ can help them to:
- Make sense of the changes in their lives
- Understand that they are going through a process that many people share
- Express the feelings that are common at this time
- Develop a way of coping if they are caught in the middle of their parents conflict
- Find ways of talking to their parents
Children decide what information they want their parents to receive at the ‘feedback’ meeting. For many parents there are no great surprises and they are reassured that they are on the right track in helping their children. Sometimes though an important piece of information comes to light that might have been missed if the child or young person had not had the chance to speak to someone outside the family. Interestingly, the most common piece of feedback is a request for mum and dad to stop arguing and get on better!
There are some situations where child inclusive mediation is not appropriate and a mediator would talk this through with the parents and provide information about other options for establishing the children’s feelings and wishes.
- Source: Lussier, G, Deater-Deckard,K., Dunn, J. And Davies, L. (2002) ‘Support across two generations: Children’s closeness to grandparents following parental divorce and remarriage’,Journal of Family Psychology, 16,363-76.
- Cockett and Tripp The Exeter Family Study: Family Breakdown and its impact on Children (University of Exeter Press, 1994)
Follow this link for further information on children in the middle whilst separating