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Things To Keep In Mind When Talking To Your Child About An Absent Parent

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Mother and daughter sleeping together on bed

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It’s a heartbreaking predicament to be in to see your kid hurting over the absence of their other parent. It’s easy to avoid conversations or offer vague answers when they come to you with questions or wanting to talk about the absent parent. However, this will only make a hurtful situation even more painful because kids will naturally formulate their own explanations when you don’t give them one. Of course, speaking to a child about such a complex matter is no easy task, so here are 11 things to keep in mind when speaking to your little one about an absent parent.

Avoid speaking poorly of the absent parent.

Yes, it’s terrible that this person has made the decision not to be in their child’s life, but regardless of what happened or how you feel about your child’s other parent, they are still one half of your child. It will always hurt them to hear one parent put down the other.

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African American mother and daughter embracing at home.

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Be honest

Children can recognize when you’re not being genuine. It’s tempting to try to guard their feelings by making up stories about why the absent parent is not around, but honesty is the best policy.

African American mother and daughter talking and having fun at home.

Source: skynesher / Getty

Keep the conversation age-appropriate

Perhaps your child’s absent parent struggles with addiction or has a mental disorder that is keeping them from being an active participant in their child’s life.

Mother and daughter

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Share positive stories

Despite their unfortunate decision to be absent from their child’s life, you probably shared some good times. Be sure to tell your child about those times. They will appreciate hearing them.

Mother and daughter walking together, talking

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Avoid oversharing

Although you’re being honest with your child about why their other parent isn’t present in their lives, it’s best to keep the conversations age-appropriate. Children don’t need to know every gritty detail about why your relationship with their other parent didn’t work out.

Father and preteen son enjoy time together on front porch

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Highlight the absent parent’s positive attributes

We all have positive qualities. While it might be easy to dwell on the negative, your child would benefit from hearing positive things about their absent parent as well. As previously stated, your child is biologically one half of their absent parent and it’s not uncommon for children to wonder if they have taken on the negative qualities of their absent parent.

African-American mother holding young daughter

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Try not to include your own feelings or thoughts

It’s pretty deplorable for a person to abandon their child, but children eventually grow into adults who can assess situations and come to their own conclusions. As much as possible, try to avoid tainting conversations about the absent parent with your own feelings regarding the situation. Your child will be able to look back and see who was there and who wasn’t.

Mother and young daughter talking in kitchen

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Emphasize that it’s not their fault

Often times, children internalize the absence of a parent and blame themselves for it. Remind your child often that their absent parent’s decision has nothing to do with them.

Teenage girl lying in her mother's arms

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Give your child space to express their feelings

Your child will likely experience a range of emotions concerning their parent’s absence and they may not always want to discuss these feelings at the most convenient times. Regardless, give them the space to express themselves.

Single Mom Being Affectionate With Young Son

Source: Tom Werner / Getty

Allow time for questions

There will definitely be questions — many, many questions. Some will be as simple as “What was my mom’s favorite color?” Others will be as complex as “Why does my dad take care of his other children?” Try to honor their curiosity and feelings and answer each question to the best of your ability.

Smiling mixed race mother and daughter standing on front stoop

Source: Don Mason / Getty

Explain family looks different for different people

When one parent is missing, for a child, it can feel like their family is incomplete. Be sure to emphasize that this is not the case and explain that there are many different types of families.




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