Family mediation – listening to your children

When parents separate, the top priority in sorting things out should be the needs of the children. However, researchers have noted that children are often left with no one to talk to.

In one study, less than half the children could name someone they had been able to confide in about their worries. Divorce or separation is an emotional upheaval for everyone involved; both parents will need to be able to talk to, and children need someone to listen to them [1].

In another study, a quarter of children said no one talked to them about the separation at all. Of those who had been able to talk to someone, only 5% were given a full explanation and a chance to ask questions [2]. Children need reassurance about their immediate concerns around the separation, but they also want to have their say about anything that affects them. They are often more competent to take part in family decision-making than adults realise. Family mediation can help children understand and be involved in the changes happening in their family in two ways:

1. Child focused mediation

Child focused mediation concentrates on the child’s needs after separation. It usually covers parenting time arrangements, and can include any other issues affecting the child’s health, education and general welfare. A family mediator works with both parents in a safe, supportive and neutral environment to help with communication and decision-making concerning the children. Early on in a separation, this can include helping parents prepare for the difficult task of explaining the separation to the children. This is especially useful if the parents are finding the process painful or are struggling to find an explanation that leaves out fault and blame.

2. Child inclusive mediation

This is similar to child focused mediation, but includes a listening meeting, in which children and young people are invited to talk with a specially trained mediator. This is followed by a feedback meeting for the parents. Parents are assured that:

  • Their children will not be asked to make choices or decisions.
  • Their parental authority will be respected.
  • Children are seen only with the agreement of both parents.
  • The process and purpose of a listening meeting will be fully explained before involving children.

Children who have had an opportunity to express their views and wishes about the issues affecting them after separation describe feeling relieved and much less anxious.

The ‘listening meeting’ can help them to:

  • Make sense of the changes in their lives.
  • Understand that they are going through a process that many people share.
  • Express their feelings.
  • Develop a way of coping with conflict.
  • Find ways of talking to their parents.

Children decide what information they want their parents to receive at the feedback meeting. This can provide reassurance for parents that they are on the right track, and it can help important information come to light that might otherwise have been missed. One of the most common pieces of feedback from children is a request for their mum and dad to stop arguing and get on better!

There are some situations where child inclusive mediation is not appropriate. A mediator can talk this through with the parents and provide information about other options for establishing the children’s feelings and wishes.



[1] Lussier, G, Deater-Deckard,K., Dunn, J. And Davies, L. (2002) ‘Support across two generations: Children’s closeness to grandparents following parental divorce and remarriage’. Journal of Family Psychology, 16,363-76.

[2] Cockett and Tripp (1994). The Exeter Family Study: Family Breakdown and its impact on Children. University of Exeter Press.