Joint Custody: How to Answer Your Child's Questions about Parental Conflict or Disagreements

Most children of divorce are well aware when conflict is going on between their co-parents, even if they have no idea what it's about and you've taken great pains to protect them from witnessing or overhearing it. (And by the way, kudos to you for protecting them from these things -- it's very important that kids not witness parental conflict.)

Sometimes your savvy and perceptive kids will ask questions about your conflict that you know you shouldn't answer. A good rule of thumb here, if you need one: NEVER share the details of a parental conflict with your child -- it's too painful, divisive, and confusing for them. 

Truth is, even when it appears otherwise, your kids are rarely actually interested in the details. What they are really asking for is reassurance that their parents are still able to love and take good care of them, even during times of conflict.

So what do you say when they ask you?
Here's a little formula for you:   BRRR

B - Keep your response very Brief. The fewer your words, the better.

R - Speak Respectfully about the other parent and any other parties involved. Being respectful also includes not speaking for the other parent, not guessing about their intentions, and not setting them up by telling the child to ask them about it.

R - Reassure your kids that everyone involved loves them and wants the best for them. Let them know you are not worried about the situation, and you know things will work out fine in the end, and they will be safe, secure and loved every step of the way.

R - Re-direct their attention to something positive that you can share together in the here-and-now or near future. 

Here's how this might sound with a young child:

Child:  How come Mommy won't let us call you from her house?

Dad: I'm not sure, honey. That's something only Mommy could know. What I do know is that Mommy loves you, and I love you, and even though we haven't quite figured everything out about living in two houses just yet, I know that we will. Now come here my little lovebug, and let me give you one hundred kisses on your ears to last you all the way until Wednesday.

The BRRR formula also applies for older children and teens:

Child: What's up with Dad refusing to let me answer the phone when you call?

 Mom: I'm not sure what his reasoning is there, honey. I do know that he loves you, and is trying his hardest to do what he thinks is best for you.
Sounds like you are pretty frustrated about it right now. Want to run errands with me/see if you can beat me at HORSE/help me paint the garage? 

Please feel free to email me any questions your kids have asked you that you didn't know how to answer, and I'll post some suggestions for you.  These are situations that so many divorced parents face, so your question will surely be useful other parents as well.
For more information about Karen's parenting or interpersonal communication consultations by phone, visit

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