father and son talking

When You Need to Tell the Kids About the Bad Things

Most of my blogs have dealt with parental alienation and avoiding bad talk about the other parent. However, there are a few times that kids need to know things about a parent that are less than desirable. This can be a difficult discussion to have, especially if you are the type of parent that tries to not talk poorly about the other parent. Although, these discussions are difficult they are sometimes necessary. I thought I would share a portion of a piece written by Dr. Richard A. Warshak titled When Kids Need to Know Bad Things About a Parent. This is adapted from his book, Divorce Poison: How to Protect Your Family from Bad-mouthing and Brainwashing.

Although this piece is about telling children the necessary bad things, he does make it clear that the first priority should always be a commitment to shield children from unnecessary stress and destructive communications. He also warns that before discussing the bad things about the other parent, always consider your motives first. If you firmly believe and are convinced that the other parent is bad and the children should know about it, he suggests that you take the Washak Test.


  1. What is your real reason for revealing this information to the children?

If your answer does not always go back to the children’s best interests, then you should not tell the child the information. Your number one motivator should always be their best interest. The information should never serve the purpose of your getting revenge, needing to feel superior, or placing blame and guilt.


  1. Are the children being harmed by the behavior you are about to tell them about? Or is it more harmful to them if you keep the information from them? Think long and hard about this one. You should consider the pros and cons of both.


  1. How will this information help your children to hear what you are about to tell them? The piece offered a great example pertaining to money about a woman that believed her ex-husband was stingy in the divorce settlement. Although she knew that more money would benefit the children as she would be better able to provide for them, she decided not to tell them because she couldn’t think of how it would help them to hear her opinion that their father was a cheapskate. She determined that all this information would do is place the children in the middle of an adult conflict and only succeed in diminishing their respect for their father.


  1. Do the possible benefits of revealing this to the children outweigh the possible risks?

If you determine that it is in the best interest of the children to know the information, do so in a manner that minimizes the harm.


  1. If you were still happily married to this person, and you wanted to protect your children’s relationship with him or her, how would you handle the situation?

Thinking of the situation in this way, it challenges you to think of the most rational and constructive method. If you were happily married and could find a way to discuss or minimize the harm, you would do it. Even with all the hurt feelings and terrible emotions that a divorce brings, you should try to use the same discretion.


To read the full document, click here. Contact Hickey and Hull Law Partners to schedule a consultation to help you with all your family law needs. The River Valley office number is 479.434.2414 and the Northwest Arkansas office number is 479.802.6560 or contact us via our website.


Source:  Washack, R. A. (2011). When Kids Need to Know Bad Things About a RParent. Washack. www.washak.com.