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Many kids tell and share secrets with friends and siblings. Most of the time these secrets are harmless, even . . .

Many kids tell and share secrets with friends and siblings. Most of the time these secrets are harmless, even silly. Unfortunately sometimes secrets can hurt people and even be dangerous. It's important that children be able to differentiate between secrets that are okay to keep, and secrets they should never keep. Adults can help children learn this by teaching them when to keep a secret and when not to, and by instilling in them positive decision-making skills, self esteem, and trust in adults.

The rule is

  • If a secret can't hurt someone or something, keep it.
  • If a secret can hurt someone or something, tell an adult.
  • If you're not sure, tell.

It's okay for children to keep surprise parties and presents secret because these secrets will make someone happy and won't be a secret forever. But children should never keep it secret if someone is being bullied, or if someone is involved in dangerous behavior like fighting, vandalizing property, and using drugs.

Sometimes it can be hard for children to decide whether to tell a secret or keep it. The possible consequences may not be clearly negative or positive, the child may not want to violate someone's trust, and he or she may not want to get in trouble.

You can help children practice making the right decisions by role-playing different scenarios about secrets. Brainstorm possible secrets with children and ask them to say which ones they would keep, and which they would tell to an adult. Have them decide which adult they would talk to, and what they would do if the first adult they tell doesn't help.

Here are some more ways you can help your children make positive decisions about secrets.

  • Take time to listen carefully to your children's fears and feelings about the people and places that scare them or make them feel uncomfortable.
  • Tell kids to trust their instincts. If they think something may be wrong or may hurt someone, act on it.
  • Make sure they know that no one has the right to ask them to keep a secret from their parents.
  • Remind your children that no one, not even a teacher or close relative, has the right to touch them in a way that makes them feel uncomfortable.
  • Tell them that NO adult should ever ask them to keep a special secret, especially one that makes them feel uneasy.
  • Tell kids that if the first adult they tell a secret to doesn't believe them or won't help, to keep telling an adult until they get help.
  • Let children know that they can tell you anything and you'll be supportive. Make it clear that you won't blame them, and that they won't get in trouble for telling you.
  • Take complaints seriously and take action.
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