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Talking Around the Kids: 5 Ways to Prevent Problems

Even if you're careful, your kids will wind up overhearing things that they shouldn't. Here are tips on how to handle that when it happens -- as well as suggestions for making it less likely.

  1. Ask what they heard. If you suspect your kids have overheard something, ask them. Tell them that they won't get in trouble if they tell the truth. They probably know that eavesdropping is wrong, so they may not want to reveal it.
  2. Reassure them. Help your kids put what they heard in perspective. If they're upset about an argument you had with your spouse, explain that adults sometimes disagree but that you'll work it out -- and that arguments do not mean you're getting a divorce.
  3. Be proactive. Don't think you can hide something big from your kids -- like losing a job or the illness of a close relative. "Trying to keep kids in the dark about things like that just doesn't work," says Sachs. Instead, level with them in an age-appropriate and reassuring way. You'll spare them a lot of confusion and anxiety later. 
  4. Get privacy when you need it. Have something sensitive you need to discuss? Do it somewhere else. Go for a walk. Close the bedroom door for a few minutes. Don't try to whisper or talk in code and hope your kids won't notice.
  5. Allow selective eavesdropping. There is one real benefit to a child's tendency to listen in.
    "One of the best ways to praise the child is indirectly," says Kennedy-Moore. "If your child overhears you talking to grandma about how hard she is working in math class, that can really boost the child's self-esteem." Kids are more likely to believe your praise when you're not saying it to them.