June 28, 2021

Ask Margaret- When Is It Okay For Kids To Keep Secrets?

We sometimes worry about kids keeping secrets, but some level of secrecy is appropriate for kids. It’s important to help kids learn which secrets are OK (like surprises). Here’s how to talk about keeping other people's confidences, early and often.

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We sometimes feel nothing should be kept secret between us and our children, but that's not really true. We do need to talk often with our kids about the difference between inappropriate secrets (an adult asking them to keep something secret from their parents) and appropriate ones (the present we are hiding in the garage for Dad's birthday).

Today's question comes from our Facebook group:

How do teach kids when to keep secrets? Like not telling other kids about Santa, or how babies are made? Or how twhen not to talk about a topic, like puberty, with others?

Conversations about secrets should be ongoing. What is the difference between tattling and telling? When is it appropriate to keep a friend's confidence? What if you know a friend is in trouble, but you've been asked to keep it secret? Your child will likely need help navigating these types of dilemmas throughout their childhood.

One way to make this easier is to define a spectrum of secret-keeping. On side are secrets that are always inappropriate:

  • Adults asking you to do things that make you uncomfortable, and to keep that from your parents
  • Friends doing things that worry or scare you, and telling you not to tell anyone

On the other side are secrets that are always OK:

  • Surprises (We're taking Mom on a trip for her birthday next week but don't tell her yet)
  • Keeping magic alive for younger kids (Not telling little kids there is no Santa)
  • Private Things (Things that are going on with your body that are private)

Neither of these categories is absolute, which is why an ongoing dialogue is important. Help kids think about different types of secrets they might be asked to keep in advance. Talk with other family members and caregivers about the language used around secrets. Discourage grandparents from saying things like "This is a secret! Don't tell Mom!" when they take the kids out for treats.

Check out our earlier episode on secrets here:


In this episode Margaret references this link from Fatherly.com:


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