We have all had secrets at one point or another in our lifetime. For us, it all likely started when we were young, and one of our friends would tell us a secret: perhaps about a crush or something silly like that, and we would vow to keep it. But now that we are parents ourselves, we have concerns of our own about secrets and our children. What is the right time to introduce your children to secrets? How to talk to kids about secrets? Here’s a handy guide on how and when to teach kids to keep secrets.
What Are Some ‘Good Secrets’ That Kids Can Keep?
There are plenty of good examples that children can keep. If Daddy is throwing a surprise birthday party for Mommy, and he doesn’t want anyone to spoil the surprise, this is a great first secret that you can tell your child. Others include loved ones coming to visit or coming home from deployment or special gifts for friends or family members, etc. It is important to teach your children that there are certain secrets that they should not keep, such as if anyone touches them, or a stranger approaches them, or if they, or a friend, are in danger.
When Should I Teach Them About Secrets?
Ann Lagges, Ph.D., H.S.P.P., a pediatric psychologist at Riley Hospital for Children at Indiana University Health, says that children under the age of seven should not be expected to keep secrets because kids under the age of seven would not understand the concept of what a secret really is, or how to keep one.
Lagges says that seven is when parents should begin to encourage their children to keep small secrets with their friends. Lagges says “Learning how to keep a secret is a part of navigating social relationships.”
Make Sure You’re Their Go-To
Make it clear to your children that you are always going to be there for them, no matter what. Let them know that they are free to talk to you about anything. Nothing is off limits. Make sure to ask them about their day, as well. Open up a dialogue, if they seem upset or angry. Have them sit down with you and ask them to talk to you about their feelings. You could say something like, “I see you’re having a bad day – would you like to talk about it with me?” This way, you are creating a healthy and trusting bond with your child.
As your children get older, they are going to want privacy. Say you have a teenager, and you’re doing laundry, and in their room you come across their diary – what do you do? Do you break their trust in you and open the diary – where they keep their secrets? Or do you pass it up, knowing that you can trust your child?
Are Friends Allowed To Keep Secrets Amongst Friends?
This one can be a little touchy, but for the most part, if the secrets are something innocent – a crush, or perhaps making a surprise gift for their teacher – then it’s fine. But if something like bullying is happening at school and a child happens to see it, they should feel that they have a safe place to go to, whether it is you, the school counselor, or another trusted adult.
All In All
Ultimately, it is up to you when you see fit as to how and when to teach kids to keep secrets. Trusting them with a secret is a big responsibility to them, and makes them feel special. But remember, they are only kids, after all. So, it is best to start with something small: perhaps Grandma is coming for a visit, and you don’t want Daddy to know. That’s a good, small start.