Kids need to learn to trust their gut when it comes to secrets – one that makes them feel uneasy is a no-no.
Secrets can confuse
Parents play a major role when it comes to the developing conscience of a child. Around the age of seven and eight,
she’ll develop the ability to keep a secret. Being entrusted with classified information makes her feel important and
it can be very exciting. However, some kids are smart and enjoy holding power over others, which means your child
might unwittingly find herself in a compromised situation when given a secret to protect. Her reputation could hang
in the balance depending on how she deals with it. Partial truths and withholding information can be confusing for children, and gossiping in front of them can set a bad example. Instilling a deep-seated commitment to honesty, and teaching them the difference between ‘good’ and ‘bad’ secrets also sets a precedent for bullying, as it’s often the basis to being part of an ‘in’ or ‘out’ crowd.
Information that ‘you can never tell’ is often a burden to carry and keep in check
Types of secrets
A good secret involves an element of surprise that brings joy, either for her (in that it makes her happy to make
a friend happy) or others, when the surprise is revealed. It will make her feel excited and happy when she thinks
about it. It will also more than likely have a time limit (like a surprise birthday party).
A bad secret is a different story altogether as it can bring a sense of confusion, stress and anxiety. Information
that ‘you can never tell’ is a burden to carry and keep in check. It has no defined ‘end date’ and, if exposed, means
something bad will happen to the person the secret’s about, usually someone she cares about, or even herself.
A bad secret is often a lie that purposefully and deceptively changes the facts. And, as soon as you tell one person, you lose control and it’s no longer a secret. Tell your child that bad secrets are not to be kept.
Help lift the shame of a bad secret
If your child shares a secret with you:
- Be calm and don’t become angry about it, or with her.
- Tell her she should never be alone in keeping a secret that makes her feel sad or uncomfortable.
- Give her a chance to resolve it herself.
- If you feel you need to intervene, for example, by talking to the parent of a co-conspirator, explain why
- Manage the knowledge with absolute discretion so that you don’t lose her trust.
- Make your home a ‘no bad secret zone’.
It’s important she understands that opening up a secret to you isn’t the same as ‘telling on’ a friend, and vow
to involve her in how you reveal or deal with the secret so that it no longer rests on her shoulders. Her biggest
fear is what will transpire after the secret is out. Assure her that she needn’t feel bad about it, and that the
awkwardness will pass. Discuss that the best way she can protect herself in future is if she tells other children
she’s not open to being pulled into secretive behaviour when similar scenarios arise.
COMPILED BY ANGIE SNYMAN PHOTO: FOTOLIA.COM