4 Tips for Talking to Children about Secrets
There is an estimated 39 million survivors of sexual abuse in America. Experts believe 1 in 4 girls and 1 in 6 boys are sexually assaulted by the age of 18 with 9 years old being the average age of reported abuse. It is a sad fact that many adults seeking counseling for surviving sexual abuse have kept horrible secrets since childhood that have negatively impacted many, if not all areas of their life. When the physical aspect of the abuse stops, the survivor continues to be abused by the secrets they hold and the ongoing confusion and dysfunctional beliefs they must try to reconcile as they mature into adulthood.
A Secret is most often defined as “A piece of information that is known by only a small number of people and is deliberately not told to other people.” Children can be encourage to keep the horrible secrets by being manipulated with kindness, being convinced they are the ones doing wrong, or by being threatened with violence against them or someone they love.
Being Sexually Abused is a very dangerous secret to keep because it can be a cause of the survivor developing an eating disorder, abusing drugs and alcohol, suicidal thoughts, sexual addictions and destructive behavior, and becoming sexual abusers themselves.
Responsible adults must be proactive in helping to protect children from sexual abuse. The ugly truth is that the abuser is often the person whose role it is to protect the child. For this reason, parents, grandparents, extended family, teachers, pastors, youth leaders, and friends should consider talking openly with children to educate them about secrets.
4 Tips for Talking to Children About Secrets:
- There is no such thing as a “good secret”. Children can get confused if we try to explain the difference between good and bad secrets, so it is best to teach a child that if someone tells them to keep a secret, they should always tell you what the secret is. Building trust with a child is important so they feel safe and confident in telling their secret.
- Explain the difference between a secret and a surprise. For example, you can explain to a child that a surprise is when daddy tells you what mommy is getting on Friday for her birthday. It is okay to not tell mommy the surprise because she will know on Friday. A Surprise is something that everyone will know soon. A Secret is something that someone tells you not to tell anyone. No matter what the secret is, it is always okay to tell Daddy. This conversation is good to have multiple times with children and adolescents to reinforce the difference between a secret and a surprise, and to reinforce to them that they have a safe person they can trust to tell their secrets.
- Start Talking Soon and Often: Begin talking with your child at an early age and educating them about their body. Use opportunities that come up in every day conversation to address issues of being safe. Develop boundaries with them regarding people they know and don’t know. Discuss “what should we do” in various hypothetical situations, including ones that involve someone touching them inappropriately or talking to them inappropriately about sex. This will help them develop their critical thinking skills and be less likely to keep secrets.
- Always say, “I Believe You”. No matter what the secret is or who the secret is about, it is very important to be sure to always verbalize that you believe children of all ages when they tell you a secret. One of the ways abusers get children to keep secrets is by convincing them that no one will believe them. If someone who is being abused tells their secret and they are not believed, they most likely will continue to be abused and not tell anyone again.
When a child keeps the secret of abuse, regardless of the form of abuse, their body, mind, and spirit are violated and impacted negatively forever. Abuse can never be “forgotten”, but the survivor can heal from the horrific effects of physical and psychological damage and experience a life of health and harmony through counseling. The healing process can’t begin until the secret is told to someone who will believe them and take action to support them in seeking help.