Please Don’t Ask My Child to Keep Secrets
This morning, BabyC, Yuba the dog, and I were playing in our neighborhood meadow. Those of you who were aghast or concerned about our letting BabyC climb on our furniture will be happy to know that we have found the perfect toddler climbing tree at the meadow. She makes a beeline for this tree every morning, and she practices climbing up and down the ladder-like sideways branches.
There are often other kids at the meadow, and they like this tree, too. BabyC watches with big eyes as the older kids climb higher than she thought possible. Yesterday, she climbed right into a group of big kids, and one of them accidentally knocked her off her low branch. She whimpered, and then we brushed off her knees and she tried again. I love watching this kid work.
Anyway, back to this morning. BabyC was climbing, and I was standing where I could both throw the frisbee for Yuba into the open part of the meadow and keep an eye on BabyC. On our way into the meadow, we had said hello to a middle-aged woman and two elementary-aged kids. They were now playing in trees out of sight but within earshot from us.
I could tell that the woman and children were having an earnest conversation, but I wasn’t following it. Then I heard the woman say,
“I’ll tell you, but it is a secret. You can’t tell your parents. They might not understand.”
This stopped me in my tracks. The secret turned out to be something philosophical about the key to living a happy life and staying a kid forever. This woman was probably an aunt or a babysitter, and I’m sure she meant no harm. Maybe she presented this as a secret just to get the kids’ attention.
I knew all of this, but in my gut, I felt intensely uncomfortable with this conversation. All I could think of was the Penn State sex abuse scandal, where the worst kind of secrets allowed a man to get away with unthinkable acts for 15 years.
Please don’t ask my child to keep secrets.
I don’t care if you are sharing the secret to a happy life or having ice cream for breakfast or staying up 2 hours past bedtime. In our family, we don’t need secrets. Not between Mama and Daddy, not between BabyC and anyone else. I don’t care how benign they may seem. I want BabyC to know that she can share anything with us.
My question is, how do I teach this to BabyC? At 20 months, I think she’s too young to understand even the concept of a secret right now. If we don’t want them in our family, how do I introduce the concept? I like to think that being willing to talk about anything with as little judgement as possible is the first step. At some point, though, we have to talk about this topic more directly.
When do you think it is appropriate to start talking to kids about hurtful secrets? Can you think of useful examples that aren’t as scary as Jerry Sandusky?