When A Child Shares A Secret
As children approach preschool age they are fascinated by the practice of telling secrets. They watch as you whisper to someone an important message and observe reactions to the sharing of a secret. They want to be in on the special bonding that goes along with telling secrets.
The first time you whisper a secret in their ear they get so excited over the fact that you are sharing with them something really important. They feel special. It also causes them to want to share it with someone else. Keeping a secret at this age is very hard. It is like trying to keep water from flowing.
Secrets can be good or bad. This is where adults need to help children learn the difference between sharing a harmless fact and talking about others. Good secrets have a time limit and usually are fun to share, such as a surprise party for mommy or daddy. Bad secrets are those that may cause someone harm, including themselves.
Parent Resources That May Help
Can I Tell You Something?
When a child has experienced something fearful they may store it in their mind. Parents may not see the affects it has on a child until the secret grows into a scary monster. At which point, the child may explode with emotion and tears.
I remember a friend of mine's experience with her granddaughter. They were driving in traffic when her grandchild, asked her if she could tell her a secret. Of course, grandma recognized the tone of voice and reassured her that she was listening.
Her grandchild proceeded to tell her that she was very upset about a choice she made earlier that day. She, along with her little brother, and mother visited the ice cream shop where not only did they sell sweets but small toys and gifts. She spied a small stuffed bear that she she wanted and asked her mom if she could buy it. Her mother gave her a choice of either buying the bear or the ice cream because they could not afford both items. At the time, the child decided the bear was a better purchase.
Later as they were sitting outside at a table, she watched her mother and little brother enjoying their cones and realized she had made a mistake. She asked her mother if she could have a cone, but mama, needing to remain firm, said no. This caused a great amount of grief for the little girl.
As she shared the story with grandma, she burst into tears and sobbed while explaining that she wished she could tell her mommy how this made her feel. Of course, grandma being alert to the child's feelings yet wanting to help her learn from the experience, encouraged her to share her feelings with mother when they returned home. She consoled the child over the emotional distress of making a wrong choice, and helped her realize that next time she should consider the consequences. (All handled in age appropriate conversation and with lots of love.)
How To Respond To A Secret
Child's Response to Reaction
Do not react with fear
Child will cease to share and internalize greater fear if you do
Keep your tone natural
Child will relax and feel unthreatened.
Do not probe
Child will share willingly what he feels to be important
Child will appreciate your full attention.
Let them know if it needs to be shared
Child may be resistant, make sure you tell them why
Let them know you care
Child will feel valued, loved and respected
Assure them that they will not get in trouble for sharing
Child will trust your relationship
Using Games Helps Children Learn "Secrets"
As parents well know, children love playing games. Often activity can be used to teach important skills such as telling secrets. I have used many such activities with preschool children and the fun they have while perfecting the ability is priceless.
- Puppets can be used to help tell stories about a special secret. As they interact with the puppet it will help them learn this important talent. Make sure they get to whisper secrets back and forth during the play session.
- Role playing is also another good way to help a child learn the art of sharing good and bad secrets. You can act out small skits with them and pretend to share the different types of good and bad news. Have them help you write the skit and make sure you include both good and bad types of "secret" problems.
- There are many books and videos that will help to discuss the skill as well. A new book, I Have A Secret. Do I Keep It? by Thornton, is a basic book well written and illustrated that helps to define what a secret is in terms a child can understand.
As your child learns that good secrets make you feel happy and bad ones cause you to feel sad, they will find solace in being able to share with a trusting person in both situations. As a child grows they will learn the level of secrecy deepens and establishing this early foundation will ensure that they will know when to confide in an adult.
Have you any suggestions or insight to add to the article? Please leave a comment below so that others can learn from your experience.