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Kids hear the darndest things



What you can do about children eavesdropping on adult conversations

What you can do about children eavesdropping on adult conversations


One of my earliest memories is of eavesdropping on my mother and her sisters. They were complaining about their mother, my beloved grandmother, who was not there. They poked fun at her, laughing secretively in the kitchen. I was probably four, maybe five.

Their jeers upset me terribly, which is why I remember. (Though I don’t recall the specifics of their irritation.) I walked into the room crying. I told them my grandmother “does the best she can!” They smiled, and stopped. At least until I was out of earshot.

As a parent myself, I now know the eavesdropping child is a normal thing. They are innately curious, as I was (and remain). But one of the many adjustments families have had to make during the pandemic has been more time inside, and less privacy, which equals many more opportunities for kids to overhear conversations not meant for them – conversations much more serious than an elder getting on one’s nerves.

In this house, starting in March, we spoke frequently and with great emotion about major disappointments, fears of illness, gravely sick friends, people dying, money anxiety, terrors of totalitarianism. You get the idea. Thankfully our homebound son is twenty-two, and savvy, so I don’t worry that he heard something that would freak him out. But if he were toddler-through-tween age, or even a young teen, I would be more concerned.

READ MORE: The art of setting consequences

Writing for Parents, Sarah Cottrell advises parents to understand they may need to simply be more mindful of little ears, and shut themselves away to have “adult conversations.” Also, she says to lay down the law with kids, to point out that privacy is everyone’s right, including the child’s. If they want theirs respected, they should offer the same courtesy to parents.

She writes: “Conversations that aren't age-appropriate may even cause anxiety in kids. Putting your proverbial foot down and letting your kids know in no uncertain terms where the boundaries around private and shared conversations exist is not a bad thing.”

Inevitably, of course, a child will overhear. If they’re ready for an answer to a question brought about by eavesdropping, they will ask it, whether a parent is ready to give an answer or not. But ultimately, more communication, however it transpires, is a good thing.



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