A terrific resource in Dallas has been kind to as me to write a couple things for them. It’s been fun to act like a reporter of sorts. Dallas Child gave me a couple of topics on which to research and to write. Here’s a portion of one of them. The topic: keeping secrets from your kids … is it ever a good idea. This assignment prompted thought and reconsideration concerning a few of the things that we have or haven’t shared with our kids. Because, it can be difficult navigating tough roads like illness, brokenness, even our own less-than-stellar life choices. And, how much do we/should we share with our kids? I enjoyed contemplating the topic and hope you will too.
Click HERE to read the article in its entirety. Next week I’ll share a snippet from another article about kids growing up in the shadow of high achieving parents.
Thanks for walking the road with me.
…(H)ow do we navigate life’s turbulent roads while protecting the hearts of our children? And when, in the name of love, are we setting our kids up for more pain?
“There are some things that people, especially children, should know and some things they should not,” says Dr. Thomas Shoaf, a child and adolescent psychiatrist in Richardson. “Of concern is how secrets are used, whether to protect or to hurt, and their effects on the development of self-identity, relationships and boundaries.”
It’s about time
“Protecting a young child from information — from terminal illness to family secrets — that could cause unnecessary fear, anxiety, sadness or a negative identity makes sense for healthy development and well-being,” Shoaf explains. “However, the disclosure of this information at an appropriate time could foster the development of healthy coping skills and the ability to trust in relationships. The key is sharing information at the proper time.”
So when is the proper time?
Celia Heppner, Psy.D., clinical psychologist at Children’s Health in Dallas and assistant professor at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, says to consider not only a child’s age, but also his or her emotional maturity. “For younger children, stick to concrete language and basic facts,” she says. “Explain what is true, but use language they can understand without minimizing information.” As kids get older, broader language can be used and questions entertained.
No matter how hard we try, we cannot control a child’s environment, Heppner points out. “My recommendation is to share the information at a time before they will be exposed to societal cues. This will provide the child a framework to be able to handle the information when it does come up in a different setting.” Because as we all know, inevitably it will.
“Determining whom to trust is an important skill to learn at an early age,” states Hyowon Gweon on the MIT News website. Gweon served as lead author of the recent MIT study that explored the question of whether children can discern when adults are telling them the truth — just not the whole truth.
“When someone provides us information, we not only learn about what is being taught; we also learn something about that person,” offers Gweon. And, based on that information — whether it’s accurate, complete or a partial share — we gauge our trust. Kids do too.
Southlake parents Holly and Brad Parker (names changed for confidentiality) say they also fretted over what to tell their children, friends and extended family when they learned that their college-age son was struggling with depression.
“It’s not exactly what we imagined for his life,” Holly says. “In the moment, the pain was so great — especially as we learned he’d entertained notions of suicide — that we didn’t know how much to say or when or how. What would people think?”
Their pain was palpable.
“For us, our child provided the answer,” the mom adds. “We would have erred on trying to protect him by keeping the truth a secret. But he decided differently.”
His response: “We tell them the truth.”
For him, airing secrets of self-doubt, loneliness and dark thoughts opened the door to healing and freedom from the chains that accompanied hiding the truth.
“Interestingly, he didn’t want to tell us about his struggles,” Brad shares. “He didn’t want to hurt us. I guess the protection tables had turned.”
Holly adds, “We couldn’t help but wonder if, in all our good intentions, we had trained him to hide hurt.”
Gift of honesty
“Secrets can lead to harmful miscommunication and shame that endures for years,” says Shoaf. “Children can be perceptive of parents’ nonverbal postures, mannerisms and attitudes that reflect the negative and shameful aspects of some secrets. In turn, children may internalize this guilt, shame or doubt when it has nothing to do with their actions.”
So what’s a parent to do? According to Shoaf, we can teach our kids that everyone faces difficult storms. Honesty, along with mercy, love and forgiveness (if necessary), can help us move on and live full lives. “It is this precious gift [of honesty] that fosters the development of a positive identity for the child,” Shoaf explains.
After her father-in-law’s death, Hildebrand’s youngest daughter (almost 6) asked if they could visit neighbors where he had lived. “The kids gave pictures, hugs and time,” Julie remembers. “I’m fairly certain that we don’t have to protect our kids from every hurt. I don’t think mine would have ever thought to consider these people if they knew nothing about their struggles.”
For the rest of the story, click below. Julie Hildebrand has more to say and Janie Hamner has a terrific sidebar with practical tips at the end of the article.