Adults and kids handle things differently and it can be hard to know how they'll deal with a difficult conversation or out-of-the-ordinary situation. Because of that uncertainty, it can also be difficult to know when to talk to kids about certain things and how to bring up the conversation. As the adult, you're supposed to protect them from things and guide them through life, but there are some surprising things you shouldn't actually hide from children that, if you have kids of your own, you likely need to know more about.
Oftentimes adults think that certain topics should be kept from kids, at least until they're older. Or they might think that it's better to just let them learn about something over time, without ever addressing it directly. Hiding things from kids isn't always the best idea, however, so knowing which topics are things that you actually shouldn't keep secret can help you navigate situations as they arise. Children might be able to handle much more than you think and hiding certain things from them might not actually be the best way of going about it. Being honest with them without scaring or upsetting them can be a better way to deal with certain situations.
"Parents should always remember they are raising adults in the end — and you want them to be equipped to be adults," Donna J. Bozzo, a parenting expert and author, tells Romper by email. "If a family members lies about something, don't cover it up to protect them. They need to know not all people are honest."
Ultimately, you have to do what you think is best, but in some cases, it might be better not to keep these sorts of things a secret.
1. Mistakes You've Made In The Past
Pretending that you're perfect and have never made mistakes really isn't doing your children any favors. Because no one is perfect, when they inevitably make mistakes or fall short, they'll be left thinking that they're somehow failing at something, and that's no good.
"Kid learn how to fail up and fail for success from us," Naphtali Roberts, LMFT, a child therapist and parenting coach, tells Romper in an email exchange. "They can also learn patterns of fear and avoidance from us. The goal is to teach them how to learn from their mistakes and not to use your failure as a way to beat them over the head with a point you've been wanting them to understand."
2. Death & Dying
Death is part of life. Chances are, at some point, your child will be exposed to death, whether it's a pet, a grandparent, a friend, another family member, or someone else. Though it might be tempting to keep it hidden, particularly if they're young, you might be better off having the conversation.
"We don't want our kids to feel any discomfort at all," Julia Cook, a children's author and parenting expert, tells Romper via email. "We think that some things are too big and complex for them, but all kids need truth and communication. If they don't get the truth, then trust is fractured and they will not continue coming to you for information. If they have questions, give them information they can process on their level."
Particularly if it's someone close to them, explaining what you can and trying to help them understand can help.
3. The Topic Of Sex
"I know that the subject of sex is a taboo, however it is important for boys and girls to not be afraid, scarred, or bullied into believing that their urges and and attractions are not supposed to happen," Ginger Lavender Wilkerson, LMFT, a licensed marriage and family therapist and teen expert, tells Romper by email. "Puberty is a perfect opportunity to discuss good sexual health. Sexual health is acknowledging urges, discussing limits, and reasoning behind making informed decisions."
Sure, you might feel a little bit awkward about it, but the conversation is a necessary one. Plus, some kids ask questions, so making sure that you don't let the opportunity pass you by to answer those questions honestly can be important too.
4. Violence Or Tragedies
The world is complicated and lots of terrible things happen. It's easy to think that kids don't notice or need to be aware of these things, particularly if they aren't things that affect their little lives directly, but you might not want to hide it from them.
"It seems we can't go very long without hearing about a school shooting, violent event, or terrorism," Roberts says. "As much as we want children to not be faced with the trauma of the daily news we also have to know they hear things. There are ways to speak to young children about violence in a way that is not focused on fear, but rather focused on ways that we, as individuals, can be part of the solutions."
5. Discrimination & Prejudice
"At a young age, children become aware that they sometimes feel different when faced with someone that is different then them or see a friend at school leave another friend out because they are different from them. Discrimination, racism, and bias is out there and I encourage parents to talk about it, point about it and teach children how to deal with their feelings," Roberts says.
Talking with children about discrimination, prejudices, biases, and more is important because they need to know that, yes, those things do exist, but that treating people poorly is not OK. And if it's your child that's experiencing these things (rather than observing them), it's important to talk to them about how they're feeling and, if applicable, share your experiences as well.
6. Your Feelings
All too often, parents push their own feelings — other than happiness — under the rug and keep them hidden from their children. They're trying to protect them and don't want to cause their children any undue stress or unnecessary concern. It's understandable. That being said, hiding your feelings might not actually be something you should do.
"One thing that I often tell parents (and they seem surprised) is that you shouldn't hide your emotions from children," Shanna Donhauser, LICSW, a child and family therapist, tells Romper via email. "That doesn't mean that you should completely unleash all your feelings around your children, but it is important for them to know what you're feeling and why. Children are incredibly intuitive and young children especially look to their parents a lot throughout the day, gauging the world through their parents' affective states. If you're frustrated, annoyed, sad, or disappointed, take an opportunity to explain the emotion, the word for the emotion, and the context."
It'll help them in the long-run.
Some adults think that talking to kids about adoption is a complicated issue or one that they won't really understand when they're younger, but keeping it hidden might not be the best way of going about things either.
"Depending upon the questions that the child asks, you can give further details in a simple language," Dr. Vandita Dubey, PsyD, a clinical psychologist, tells Romper by email. "You can also provide a simple explanation of the reasons or causes because a lot of young children blame themselves for things like divorce or illness or death. The most important thing is to let a young child know that none of these things are [their] fault."
8. Sad Or Serious Things
It's certainly tempting to ignore talking to kids about things that are sad or serious, like a potentially serious medical condition, but kids can pick up on more than you might think. "If grandma has cancer or family friends are going through a divorce it's OK to talk to them about the hard things," Roberts says. "If your kids are little you can keep the description brief and as they get older you can share more if you feel it will help them learn more and grow towards adulthood." It can sometimes be hard to know how much information is the right amount, but if you start with a more general description and they ask questions, you can then answer those questions as best you can, leaving the rest of the information for later on.
9. Concerns About Money
If your family is experiencing money problems, being honest and open with your kids, age-appropriately, can be important. Heidi McBain, MA, LMFT, LPC, RPT, a licensed marriage and family therapist, tells Romper in an email exchange that explaining why you might need to make some spending changes (like not eating out as often or skipping vacations) can help them understand that it's not their fault that you're no longer doing those fun things. "Kids can pick up on the stress that their parents are under, and if this stress is not addressed and talked about openly with their kids (again on an age-appropriate level), then kids can start to internalize this stress as something that they are personally doing wrong," McBain explains.
Though some conversations or topics might be difficult to consider raising with your children, hiding these things from them might not be the best tactic. You can help them learn about and better understand these sorts of things, but you have to be willing to have these conversations in order for that to happen.
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.