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Good Secrets and Bad Secrets: How to Help Kids Tell the Difference

Sexual abuse thrives in secrecy. Perpetrators will often make the children they abuse promise to keep what happened “our little secret.” This can cause confusion to some kids since they’ve equated secrets with fun things like a birthday party or going to Disneyland. Below are three things you can do to help protect your child from keeping a secret that could harm them.

Differentiate between good and bad secrets or surprises.

Teach your children that some secrets can be harmful and that no one should ask them to keep a bad secret. Let them know that some secrets can hurt someone and that they should tell you immediately. On the other hand, if you’re buying your spouse a car then that’s a good surprise you want your child to keep to him- or herself. Let them know that good surprises are temporary and will end in happiness. Bad secrets are permanent and can end in sadness.

Create and maintain open communication.

If your child comes to you with a secret that someone told them to keep and you fly off the handle, react badly, or shame them for talking about whatever it is, they will be much less likely to open up to you again. Whatever the secret is, take a breath and make a conscious choice to respond, not react, to the situation. This will let your child know that they can continue to come to you when they are in trouble or when they have something they need to talk about.

Talk to your child about what a threat is.

Certain perpetrators will threaten a child in order to ensure their secrets are kept. Let your child know that if anyone threatens to hurt them (or you) then they need to come and tell you – it doesn’t matter who said it or what they said. Think carefully about how to explain this to your child so they can understand it at their age and maturity level.

Secrets and surprises aren’t something that you should talk about once and assume your child understands. Keep revisiting the conversation. Any time there is a surprise, remind your child about the difference between a good or bad surprise or secret. Keep talking to them, listening to them, and letting them know that you are there for them. No matter what.