8 Secrets Parents Ask Kids to Keep and Why Doing So is a Bad Idea

While most parents have lofty goals of raising noble, honest children that never bend the truth or withhold information, it soon becomes apparent that the occasional white lie is necessary. When kids are young, they often lack the social awareness that’s required in order to filter inappropriate comments from the more socially accepted observations. Asking kids to keep secrets, however, can be a problematic slippery slope of sorts. There are some secrets you just don’t want to ask your kids to keep, for a variety of reasons.

  • “Don’t Tell Your Father I Gave You a Cookie” – When your little one is begging for a sweet treat and your partner is less eager to indulge those whims, it feels harmless to let her scamper away with snacks in hand and an admonishment to keep quiet in her ear. What you’re actually doing, however, is establishing a household culture in which one parent is kept out of the loop, effectively sending a message to your child that doing so is perfectly acceptable.
  • “Don’t Tell Your Sister That There is No Santa” – Part of the magic of childhood is believing that a portly man in a red suit comes plummeting down the chimney each winter bearing gifts. As with so many things, however, that magic begins to fade as kids get older and start questioning the veracity of such tales. Asking your older child to “keep the secret” is essentially asking her to be complicit in a lie, something you’re probably actively discouraging in other situations. Instead, try explaining to her that Santa Claus is a symbol for loving and sharing, and that now she’s old enough to help continue that tradition.
  • “Don’t Tell Your Mom I Let You Watch That Movie” – Just like keeping a secret about sneaking snacks into waiting hands can backfire, so can asking older kids to keep mum about exposing them to something that your partner might find inappropriate. This pits you as the “cool” parent against the more strict parental figure, which causes your child to make allegiances, rather than respecting the rules.
  • “Don’t Tell Your Teacher That We’re Going on Vacation” – It’s often easier to take kids out of school on a Friday for a long weekend jaunt by feigning illness, but it only introduces your child to the concept of playing hooky. Instead, swallow your pride and admit that your child isn’t ill, she’s just going on a short vacation.
  • “Don’t Tell Your Grandma That Mom and Dad are Fighting” – Marital discord is never an easy thing to manage, but it becomes even more complicated when your own parents or your in-laws get involved. That’s why it’s so tempting to ask your children to keep quiet about trouble in their household, but the last thing you want to do as a parent is to remove a trusted confidant from your child’s support network. It’s better to be honest about the situation and firm in your refusals to discuss the matter with your parents or in-laws than it is to run the risk of damaging the relationship your children have with their grandparents.
  • “Don’t Tell Your Aunt I Made Fun of Her New Haircut” – Before you realized what you were doing, you slipped and made a derogatory comment about your sister’s unfortunate new hairstyle while your child was in earshot. Sure, you can ask your child to keep the secret with no explanation, but all you’re doing is allowing her to think that it’s okay to speak ill of others in their absence. Owning up to your mistake and talking about why you shouldn’t have made those comments is a better approach.
  • “Don’t Tell Your Friend That I Don’t Like Her Mother” – When your child starts making her own friends, it’s a given that you won’t approve of all of them. Still, you shouldn’t let your child know that you feel that way without real justification and you certainly shouldn’t share that information with her and then tell her to keep it to herself.
  • “Don’t Tell Mom That I Have a New Job” – Divorce is a messy situation, especially when it comes to financial settlements and disclosure. Instead of asking your kids to pick sides by keeping secrets from your ex, practice honesty in your proceedings or keep the information you’d like hidden from your children’s knowledge altogether.

When you’re planning a secretive party or putting together a present with the help of a child, it’s tempting to bring her in on the “secret” so that she feels like she’s part of the group and doesn’t spoil the endeavor by letting the proverbial cat out of the bag. Try framing these situations as “surprises,” rather than “secrets.” Then you’re not instilling a sense of distance or setting a precedent for withholding information, and your carefully laid plans won’t be spoiled by an innocent mistake.

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