The Power of the Eavesdrop

In case you didn’t know, kids love to eavesdrop on their parents, especially when the topic of conversation is them! No joke, they are absolutely crazy about going stealth and are extremely good at it.

Many a parent has been horrified to learn that their little guys and gals have been taking notes behind the scenes when some dark, secret subject was being discussed.

But don’t let that information freak you out too much. Instead, use it to your advantage and beat them at their own game. One great way to put this info to good use is when you want to underscore how proud you are about something he has done (and which you would like him to do again). If that’s the case, just let him overhear you bragging about it to his father.

We all want to know that the people we love admire us. This goes double for our parents. And once kids hit the school-age years they are all ears when it comes to finding out exactly what mommy and daddy have to say about them.

When we tell them directly that we like what they did, that’s good. They need to hear it and it makes them feel great. But when they hear the two of you talking alone about how proud you are, it sinks in even deeper and they can take it in fully without having to respond in any way. They go away savoring the compliment and love knowing how you feel without wondering whether you were just saying it to be nice.

Keep this little pearl stashed in your back pocket and pull it out when the time is right. But remember to use this strategy sparingly. Those kids of yours are smart and pretty savvy themselves and they’ll catch on fast if you overdo it.

To really pull it off, you have to be a little cagey. You have to start the conversation when they think you don’t know they’re listening. A good time, for example, is when they have gone to bed with their door open and you are talking in the next room.

So here’s what you do next time you want to really get it through their head that you were so proud of how they: a) spent so much time playing Hearts with Grandpa when he came over to visit, even though he’s a pretty grouchy guy; b) told the truth about how the lamp got broken while you were at the Parent-Teacher conference; or, c) kindly and sincerely apologized to his cousin for the big fight they got into, which basically ruined the family picnic ….

1. Tell them face-to-face how you feel at the time.

2. Later, when the time is right, start a casual conversation in slightly lowered tones (that always gets them to perk up their ears) with your spouse or some other important person.

3. Tell the other person in detail about how amazed/proud/happy you were about whatever your kid did. Go a step further and explain why whatever she did was important — you know, like it showed a lot of character or responsibility or compassion.

4. Further explain how thrilled you are to see him/her developing such wonderful qualities. Then move on to another subject.

Sort of like this:

“Can you believe what Addy did today? I was so proud of how she stood up for Lucy when the other kids started to laugh at her. What an amazing kid. That must have been hard. She is really turning out to be a caring and courageous person. I wish I had had a friend like that when I was 10.”


“I was so proud of Daniel for telling us the truth about what happened to that lamp. He must have been scared. He knew he wasn’t supposed to be playing Hall Hockey while we were gone and it would have been so easy to make something up. How great is it that he told the truth? He’s proving to be a really trustworthy person.”

That’s about it. Give it a try. Best case scenario is they will take your words to heart and go to sleep figuring out how and when they can do that good thing again! Score!

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Ellen W. Schrier, LCSW, is a family therapist and the mother of three adolescent/young adult kids.

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