Friday, 17 April 2015

No, we don't tell secrets!

I was very proud of William recently.

(O.K, I am proud of both the boys in lots of ways but this one instant made me smile massively)
A little context:
There we are on a lovely Sunday morning eating cake and drinking Coffee, or at least squash for the boys, after our Church service ended.
Once they had finished they were off doing their normal thing.
(Running around like lunatics with the other children; usually the girls (the boys are such flirts and no, I have no idea where they get that from!))
When one of the playful teenagers went “William, come here I’ve got a secret”
Now, there was no harm or malicious intent here; this was literally a teenager telling a younger child to go do something funny. We’ve all been in that situation; we all say at some point “come here, I’ve got a secret” and usually with some kind of funny twist on it.
Yet William, in a very loud voice, went “No, we don’t do secrets!”
I was so proud of him here; my ears twitched at his little voice saying this and a big smile beamed across my face.
I have, from a young age, taught my boys that we don’t keep secrets.
I have always done this with their well-being in mind; yet, I believe that it’s such an important thing to do.
In the world of child abuse prevention, talking about secrets is very important. We can look at secrets in two types of ways; we can see ‘good’ secrets and we can see ‘bad’ ones.
We can try to explain that good secrets are ones where we have bought something nice for another person and we need to keep it secret so they don’t find out. Then we have bad secrets where there is hurtful intent.
In this scenario we are doing one clear thing; we are asking a child to keep a secret. This then relies on asking them to make the decision of if it is good or bad.
The harsh reality of this world is that some secrets can be dangerous or hurtful to others. I believe that helping children differentiate between ‘ok’ and ‘not ok’ secrets is useful, but others suggest not doing secrets at all; I take the latter stance.
My two boys are exactly that, boys.
They make bad decisions every day; is it a good idea to pour talcum powder all over Daddy’s carpet so we can make footprints in the snow? “Yeah, let’s do it.” This, however amusing, is a bad decision.  
Then don’t we, as adults, still make bad decisions? So how are we expecting children to do this?
Then look at the harsh reality:
Now this may sound cliché or that you might think that I am over reacting, but the phrase, “This is our little secret” and those similar are manipulative tactics often used by people who have intent to abuse children.
It was suggested in one training course, as a teacher, that a child who has experienced keeping secrets (especially from trusted people),and then subsequently placing value on keeping that secret, then, potentially, are more easily convinced to keep a ‘not ok’ one.
This, at the time, really struck a nerve with me and has been something as a parent that has stayed with me.
Whatever happens in my children’s lives I always want them to feel that they are comfortable telling me what is going on; I don’t, at any point, want them to not feel that they can approach me.
So I have made a big distinction between Secrets and Surprises:
Surprises, on the whole, are generally positive but the crucial part is that the surprise will be revealed eventually. It’s ok for children to keep surprises about parties and presents because those will make someone happy and won’t be a secret forever.
Secrets on the other hand usually have something behind them. We have all been in that situation where someone has told us something in confidence and we have been told not to say anything because potentially through the secret being told something negative would happen.
Now some might see the idea of a surprise as potentially being a negative thing, especially if a stranger would say “Come here I have a surprise for you”. In that regard I agree, some surprises can have a negative impact. In that sense though, I believe, that a good grounding on Stranger Danger should help a child make that decision.
William is only 6 and he already has a good grasp that secrets can harm others in some way. He also has a good grasp on surprises; although he is terrible with them. (He has a terrible lying face, of which he definitely gets from me!)
Finally something taken from the NSPCC:
“Help your child to feel clear and confident about what to share and when. Secrets shouldn’t be kept in exchange for something, and should never make your child feel uneasy. A secret should always be shared in the end.”

So what do you think?
Do you think it’s easy to distinguish good secrets from bad secrets?
How would you do it?


  1. I like your distinction between secrets and surprises! I have all this to come in a few years!

    Oh So Gawjess


    1. Thanks for commenting! I think it's important to distinguish the difference between them. Yes you'll have to do all this in a few years but it's important to start them young with it.

  2. I love this post :). I love your differentiation between secrets and suprises and I think that makes it so much easier for the littlies. The only thing that's difficult is wanting to provide a safe place where the kids can tell us things in confidence....which currently our kids are muddling up with secrets. Also their friends tell them 'secrets' about people they like but don't want anyone else to know. What would you advise?

  3. I like that you pointed out the distinction between a surprise and a secret with your boys and yes at the end of it all both must be shared eventually; great post Martyn :)

    1. Thanks Dawn. I'm glad you like the distinction. I think when they're young it's an important thing to do.

  4. International Elf Service:

    This is such a great question that I have been thinking about it all day! I don't really know but I would say:

    For providing a safe place where things can be told in confidence:

    I don't really know. The first thing that sprung to mind is open communication amongst all family member that shows that any topic can be spoken about.

    The second is reflective listening: Which is to show that you have heard the speaker and you are able to acknowledge their feelings "ah that must be frustrating for you" etc.

    On the whole the NSPCC promote that we should teach children that they can always talk to someone that they trust and that person wouldn't judge, react or necessary tell them what to do. They suggest that parents go by the "always ask" strategy which is wait for a child to ask for help/advice.

    Ultimately the difference with confidence is that things can always be said to trusted people as you can expand something within a confidence bubble. Very much like a surprise. Yet a secret is never to be told.

    As for friends telling them secrets about who they are. again, i'm not overly sure but I think it would be good to distinguish it. That its a secret but one of confidence so that its open to tell people like yourselves who can be brought in to that bubble. But to explain that they need to be sure that someone is good to be included in that bubble.

    Does that make sense?

  5. Yes complete sense and I like the concept of bubbles as they sound nice and flexible :). Very thought provoking post. I'm keen to see how our kids perceive the differences currently and then chat about it all again with them. Great post x

    1. Lol good am glad it made sense. And even better that it was thought provoking.

  6. Oh, this is really interesting I've never thought of it before at all. It's definitely something I should be discussing with Libby soon and I think I'll follow your lead on that approach, thank you :)

    1. Thanks for commenting Natalie. I think that's why I wanted to do these posts as it's not exactly something everyone thinks of straight away. But I believe that ultimately it's something that parents should consider. Glad you see my side of it and agree. Hope it goes well with Libby

  7. It is so complicated raising children sometimes isn't it, keeping secrets is useful in some places but bad in others, we have tried to teach our kids not to keep secrets from us, but then you stumble across a situation where you say "shh it's a secret" and they pull you up, so, so tricky :)

    1. Thanks Ashley for commenting. He'll yeah it is! You can't seem to do it right which ever way you try. I've caught myself using the term secret and then quickly back tracking on the concept and assuring that it's a surprise. It's difficult as I was brought up with secrets but I also know the negative side of being a secret keeper. Something that I hope through this that I can get my boys to avoid.

  8. Attempt number 2!! I was pleasantly surprised to find someone else who goes down the secrets Vs surprises route. It is so so important to me for my little people to be able to tell me anything! I would rather know what all my birthday presents are because they don't keep anything to themselves, than them be confused and keep stuff quiet that I do need to know.

    1. Thanks Michaela! It's great to stumble upon other parents who have the same techniques or views as yourself. Completely agree with you.

  9. I had never thought of Secrets Vs Suprises until reading this.
    We've always told my son that he can he can tell us anything, but after reading this we sat down and discussed keeping secrets.

    Thank you Martyn!
    Great post!

    1. Thanks for commenting Laura. This is awesome. Am so pleased that it's made you think and you've had the discussion. Made me happy :)

  10. Thank you for this, I will have a chat with my boy about this distinction this morning. My only objection would be in a situation of domestic abuse. In a happy, whole family, this would work, however sometimes it's not as clear cut as this and unfortunately I've had to ask him to keep a couple of secrets. In an ideal world, this would not be the case.

  11. A great post Mr K.

    I'd never thought of differentiating between a surprise and a secret like that.

    Well done William :-)

  12. I really love this post - such a strong message.

    I love the differentiation between secrets and surprises, so much so, that we'll definitely be taking it into consideration when T is of an age where he gets this. I just want him to be able to talk to me about anything or anyone.

    Thanks for sharing this.

  13. I think N is at the age where I need to start thinking about this kind of thing, the secrets vs surprises is a really good way of handling it x