Should I keep a secret? Teaching children about secrets

The telling and having secrets that we share with that special someone is a part of childhood that can be fun, exciting and a part of growing up. However, as adults, we know that a child could be frightened into keeping something to themselves and not telling an adult when it is most important. It is difficult for them to comprehend when to keep a secret and when they should tell.

The simple rule to start your child with is if you are not sure then you should ask your parents what they think. Asking your parents about a secret is always going to be the go-to answer, but beyond that we want them to begin honing their conscious too so their intuition guides them when fear might be overtaking them.

The fun part of keeping a secret is when you might be planning a surprise party for a family member, or you have another special event coming up that we are waiting to tell everyone about, we want to keep it a secret. The questionable choices come when a child or adult is told something by a close friend, and they have sworn them to secrecy. What are the rules or line of reasoning we can give our kids to help them choose between keeping the secret or telling an adult?

Rule 1. How does it make you feel? If you feel bad about what someone has told you or what they have demanded you keep secret makes you uncomfortable then you must ask a parent or another adult if that is something you should keep secret. If someone has touched you in places that a swimsuit is typically worn and then tells you that it is just our secret – you will want to tell a parent or a caring adult.

Rule 2. Will it hurt someone? Have you been told something that either may not be safe or will get someone hurt, either the teller of the secret or anyone else? If someone is liable to get hurt this is a secret that needs to be given the light of day. So if someone is going to run away, hurt another person, bring something to school that might hurt them or others – if anyone could get hurt, you need to tell a parent or another caring adult. The hurt may be physical, or it may be an emotional hurt as in gossiping, either way, if someone is going to be hurt we must tell an adult.

Rule 3. Will I be proud of the choice I make? If the person goes through with what they tell you – will you be happy and proud that you did not mention it to anyone? It is easy to see that a surprise birthday party secret kept would make you proud as it may not be easy to do. Whereas if your friend was going to run away if something went wrong you would not be proud.

As a parent, you can use these three questions to work out with your child a way of determining if they should keep a secret or not. In fact, these questions may help them to make other choices about talking to an adult about before coming to their conclusion. Our job as a parent is not to tell our children what to do, but to help them learn to make responsible choices. Guide them, so they come to their conclusions.
I must say that these three questions or rules of decision making are suitable for adults too. All of us at times need to speak out loud so we can hear for ourselves what is right for us to do. It is great when you have a trusted and loyal companion that we can talk to as we come to decisions about our life. Loyal friends are a gift that we appreciate by being loyal back to them.


What to teach children about keeping secrets

secretsWe want our children to be able to keep secrets, to know there are things that are personal.  At the same time there are some things that they may be asked to keep as a secret that they need and we want them to be open with us about.  Our goal at all ages is for them to feel comfortable in telling us anything, especially things that do not feel good to them.  How we define these can be confusing to youngsters, depending on their age and maturity level.

When children are young – having a special secret can be a lot of fun, a bit mysterious and a special bond.  We want them to understand that if we are having a ‘surprise’ birthday party for daddy, that it is only a surprise if we can keep it a secret.  Tying the character skill of loyalty to this kind of secret is a simple way of teaching the importance of loyalty.  However if one of their friends is getting picked on in school, this is not a secret we want them to keep.   Or if their sibling is about to do something that is dangerous – we want them to tell us about it.  So even learning the difference between telling on someone to get them in trouble or reporting something to keep them safe is very different.

Here are the guides for knowing when to keep a secret and when we must tell a trusted adult, especially the parents.  Ask yourself 4 questions:

  1. Is it fair?  (does it feel like the right thing to do?)
  2. Is it safe?  (will someone be or get hurt if I don’t tell?)
  3. Will I be proud of the choice I make? (if I don’t tell, will I feel proud?)
  4. Am I trying to get help or get someone in trouble? (the difference between tattling and reporting)

These questions can be used no matter the age of the child, we can even ask our adult selves these questions when we are trying to determine if we should tell something to another person. Imagine your teen son or daughter learned that their friend was going to run away from home.  Wouldn’t you be proud of them if they came to you and told you?  They will if they understand that running away would not be safe and they are reporting it to you to help their friend.  That is loyalty.
In teaching them about the concept of loyalty, start by using examples that they can understand, where they need to make a choice about telling or not telling a secret.  Encourage them to use the four questions to make a decision about telling – and be loyal to their friends and family.