Talking to your kids about secrets can be a tricky pursuit, one that comes up in parenting with some regularity. By definition, a secret is information that is not meant to be known by others, and yet most of us parents teach our children that under no circumstances should they ever keep a secret from us. Is the opposite true as well? Should children be told everything? Of course not.

So how do we navigate which secrets are best kept from children, and which ones must be shared? Read on to find out:

Do They Need To Know?
Involving children in secrets is a parenting decision that needs to be carefully considered against the backdrop of your child’s best interests, and also his or her cognitive and emotional capabilities. Licensed clinical psychologist Alicia H Clark says, “Secrets are secrets for a reason— not everyone needs to know everything. And yet, keeping secrets can be hard, and can feel like a lie, especially when it comes to children. Moreover, there can be secrets that, if known by children, can help protect them. If there are secrets you think your child should know about, the first step is assessing the reasons behind it.”

Susan Froetschel, a former college writing instructor and author of parenting mystery novels, most recently Allure of Deceit, believes that children will show curiosity when they are ready for a topic; for example, a relative’s illness or a neighbor’s pregnancy. “If parents don’t address the topic, the child may try to seek the information from other sources,” she adds.

Avoid Bigger Problems
Froetschel advises parents not to burden children with adult problems that they cannot resolve—divorce, money and health issues. But if the information affects the child’s life, the parent should introduce the topic gradually, explain why it should be kept confidential, and how to do so.

“A gradual approach satisfies the child’s curiosity, reduces stress and stops the questions, while also letting the parent assess how much a child can handle,” she says. 

How Much Should You Share?
According to Anastasia Gavalas, family life teacher and author of Wing It: 6 Simple Steps to Succeed as a Modern Day Parent, children develop at various stages, in three specific areas: physical, emotional, and spiritual. Therefore, each subject shared should depend upon their level of maturity, and the ability to process the issue at hand.

Secrets are hard to keep for adults, and even harder for children. Withholding information takes discipline, and inhibitory control, two cognitive skills to develop late in children. Chances are good that no matter how much a child might benefit from knowing a secret, they may not be able to keep it. The importance of keeping the secret should be considered against a child’s capacity to keep it.

Gavalas adds, “The labeling of something as a ‘secret’ needs to be clearly explained, as well as the difference with who it’s not okay to share secrets with. Oversharing and asking children to keep secrets can lead to confusion and anxiety. So, parents have to be as open and age-appropriate as possible, when they communicate with children.”

Explore our Wellness section for spa DIY, natural home care and more.
Find out how to improve your Home & Family life.

Read More:
Kids & Technology: Where To Draw The Line
10 Essential Parenting Tips: How To Raise Happy Kids
National Nutrition Month: 10 Healthy Recipes For Kids