Article 13 of the UN’s Convention on the Rights of the Child states that children have the right to get and share information, as long as it is not damaging to them or others. The right to freedom of expression is a cornerstone of human rights laws around the world and the Convention on the Rights of the Child specifically extends this right to children. Even though children may need direction and guidance from their parents or guardians to exercise this right doesn’t take away from the right itself.
The recognition of a right always includes a balancing act with competing rights. Working it out means finding ways to protect both the rights of the child and those of the family. Generally speaking a child’s right to express themselves and receive information results in a duty for parents to respect their child’s opinions and provide direction to allow the child to exercise their rights in a manner that is consistent with the capacity of the child. But the Convention as a whole recognizes that parents are primarily responsible for the child’s upbringing and making decisions that are in the child’s best interest.
Family professionals generally stress that the child’s age, maturity level and individual personality is the best guide for determining the level of detail required to answer questions they may have. It is important to stress that providing children with opportunities to share information about their changing family situation does not mean forgetting that children are still children. Much of the backdrop to separation and divorce is usually best left between adults. It is important that parents resist the urge to share all of their concerns and worries with their child – parents need to remember who is the parent and who is the child in the relationship and act accordingly.
Having said that, involving children in the process surrounding separation and divorce – to the extent possible given their age and maturity – may help them to adjust to their changing family situation and meet their needs. Listening to the child’s concerns, responding to their feelings and providing answers to their questions can provide them with a sense of safety and support. Talking openly about their changing family provides endless opportunities to provide reassurance that, no matter what, children can continue to have happy, healthy and loving relationships with both parents. There are a few things that parents and others close to the child can keep in mind to help honour the child’s need to have their questions answered…
Because some children may be uncomfortable sharing their true feelings with their parents, maybe for fear of hurting or angering one of them, it may be helpful to enlist the help of a friend, teacher, relative, family counsellor or other professional.