Keeping Secrets: Teaching your child the difference between good and bad secrets
We’ve talked about bad language, disabilities, divorce, adoption, death, race, religion, and today we’re sharing about good vs. bad secret keeping.
Our guest blogger is Mark, a former elementary school principal and father of four grown-up kids. He’s better known in my family as a local surrogate grandparent and a fabulous free babysitter, which makes him a pretty popular guy. You can check out his blog, Christian Parenting for Today, and his website full of great reading suggestions for boys.
fun. Surprise parties, the unexpected return of a loved one, special milestone
events and thoughtful gifts can often be enhanced with the element of surprise.
or causes continued shame, it can be devastating.
understand the difference between a good and bad secret. But my 30 years of
experience seems to indicate otherwise. I think there are three issues that
keep a child bound and vulnerable to keeping bad secrets.
- They do not have an understanding of the difference between
good and bad secrets
- They are not emotionally strong enough to resist pressure to
keep a bad secret
- They have been given mixed messages about secrets from the
adults in their life
preserving good and exposing bad secrets takes a strong bond, along with some
teaching and reinforcing by parents. Perhaps it may even require a change in
behavior by parents, but is well worth the effort.
secrets and how children are manipulated into keeping bad secrets. Next teach
your child how to recognize and resist those who will ask her to keep bad
secrets. Follow your teaching with a promise to her that you will love her no
matter what secret she has to reveal to you! Finally, examine your own behavior
and if needed, confess and make restitution to free yourself and protect your
WHAT TO TEACH YOUR CHILDREN
(nearly always – the near future) when it will be revealed. Good secrets are
ALWAYS temporary. Kids love surprises so this is often an easy concept for
them. However, depending on the age, it may be difficult to understand that
good secrets will always be revealed at a certain time. Here are a few
- Dad brings home a dozen roses, he tells your children
“Don’t tell Mom, it is our secret. When she walks into the kitchen she
will see them and be surprised.” At the specific point when Mom walks into
the kitchen the secrete will be revealed.
- Surprise birthday parties will be revealed on the day of the
- A favorite Uncle, Dad’s brother is coming to visit but Mom
says don’t tell Dad so it is a surprise. When the Uncle walks through the door
the secret will be revealed.
a long time or forever. Nearly all bad secrets keep something hidden that is
bad. Examples of bad secrets:
- A boy keeps pushing your sister on the bus. He says never to
tell anyone or else he will really hurt her.
- A neighbor backs up his car and hits another neighbor’s car.
He gets out of the car and gives you $20 and says “it is our little
secret.” Never tell anyone.
- You and a friend were in a fight at recess. The recess
monitor has you both up against the school wall and is really mad. When your friend
rolls his eyes, the monitor grabs him and swears at him. Then the monitor gets
upset apologizes and cries. She says she could lose her job and be in real
trouble if you say anything. She pleads with you both to keep her behavior a
secret or else it will be really bad for her and she will make sure you both
get in big trouble.
for the difficulties in life. One of which is the pressure of adults or
other children who want them to keep a bad secret. There is no replacement for
spending quality time and bonding with your child. The trust built during those
times will help your child be emotionally strong in many situations. However, I
also believe in giving a child knowledge that can help them prepare for those
who do not have their best interests in mind.
child with an understanding of the tactics used by those who may want them
to keep a bad secret. Many of the following tactics are similar and often several
are used at once. However, explaining them separately helps a child better understand and be resilient and ready for
anyone who would desire to take advantage of them.
if the secret is revealed. Or make the child feel partially responsible for
what happened and now needs to stay a secret – “you were with me when the
fire was started so if anyone finds out you are in just as much trouble.”
want to help – “I know you are a good girl, please never, never tell
power to intimidate or bring fear if a secret is revealed – I will hurt you,
your sibling, your parents, etc.
part of something that is special if they keep the secret, or even convince
them that they are the only one that can help them by keeping the secret. You
can be part of our Club, we are now special friends so we keep secrets, you are
grown up and
to intimidation, but tends to be very personal and emotional – your Mom will no
longer be proud of you, your Dad will be ashamed of you, no one will like you
ever again, everyone will think you are dirty and awful, etc.
need to know about private matters – but mom or dad always know.
Mom and Dad know, adult relatives know, her doctor knows, and even close
friends who watch her overnight know, but your friends do not need to know
because it is a private matter.
adults and those in authority are not to know.
woods and tells you and a small group of boys to keep it a secret. Because no
adult or anyone in authority knows, it is a bad secret.
let your child know that despite any secret they reveal, even if it hurts you
to find out, you will always, always love them! This assurance can make the
difference in helping your child be emotionally strong enough to tell you about
a bad secret. Remember that revealing the bad secret will be very difficult for
your child. How much more difficult if they feel like upon its revelation you
will be angry or will no longer love them?
Let’s be honest. There are some secrets that may be very
upsetting to both you and your child if you find out. Let’s look at an
example. Your 12 year old attended a sleepover. An older sibling of
the host child provided beer and all the children including your child
drank. The older child threatened all the kids and told them they better not be
a baby and tell their parents. Besides, if they do he will make sure school
life for any tattletale will be miserable for the rest of the year.
bad secret. Both because he participated and because he was threatened and does
not want to be called a “baby” or have the older child harass him at
school. You are likely to be upset about your child’s choice to participate.
Your son may fear you will get very angry when he tells you. He may be
distraught at the likelihood of a severe punishment or having to hear you yell
or scream at him. The fear of your reaction weakens his emotional strength and
will likely keep him silent.
honest and let your child know that sometimes it is going to be difficult to
reveal bad secrets. Some bad secrets may even get you upset. Let them know that
there may be some secrets they keep that upon telling you, may hurt you deeply.
Then you should enter into an agreement, maybe more like a covenant, and let
him know that if he needs to reveal a secret you promise to stay calm and take
time to process. Only after you are calm and ready to talk reasonably and without
anger, you will get together to talk about an appropriate course of action.
Remind your child that he will always have your love, no matter what. If a
child knows that he will be met with a calm parent, even if he is about to get
in trouble, he is more likely to be honest and reveal the secret.
adults are very bad people. The only way these people can continue to be bad is
if children and other people keep secrets. Make sure your child knows that if
any secret has to do with an adult doing something to her, such as touching her
in a private area, threatening her, etc. that you will never be upset with her,
only the adult! As obvious as that seems, children rarely understand this. So
make sure you let her know.
secret. Maybe there is a life controlling habit you don’t want your spouse or
other loved one to know you have returned to but, your child has watched as you
struggle. (Do I need to list these? – smoking, overeating, having a
relationship with the opposite gender that spouse does not know about, spending
money in a way you agreed not to, etc.) If this is you, please be aware that by
your example you are creating vulnerability in your child. Please, for your
sake and especially for your child’s sake, confess this to your spouse and to
your child and make it right. By doing so you are protecting your child and
this real life lesson will help him to learn that bad secrets should not be
Parents, do not assume that your child already
understands the difference between good and bad secrets or that he feels safe
coming to you to reveal a secret. Instead, take the offensive and make sure he
knows! In today’s world our children need to be safeguarded in every way