One Quick Tip To Protect Children From Abuse

Written By

Jess VanderWier
August 24, 2021

This article has been reviewed by Nurtured First’s team of child development experts.

Teach children about secrets & surprises

Secrets are an abuser’s best friend. An abuser will use secrets to control their victim and ensure that nobody finds out what is happening. 

The perpetrator might say things like: 

  • “If you share this, you’ll get in trouble.”
  • “If you tell a teacher what’s happening at home, you’ll get taken away from us.”
  • “This is your fault. You can’t tell anyone.”
  • “Let’s keep this our little secret….”

This is the case for sexual abuse, emotional abuse, physical abuse and neglect. It’s the reason abuse can happen right under our noses in families we know…

No secrets rule

We can teach our children the “no secrets rule.” We can use this rule to help our children feel comfortable coming to us with anything – even if someone tells them not to or tells them something bad will happen if they tell us. We want them to understand that no one should ever ask them to keep secrets, even people they know and trust. 

We can also share this rule with family and friends who spend time with our children. For example, if a grandparent takes your children out for ice cream, you don’t want them to say, “Don’t tell mommy about this. It will be our little secret.” Even an innocent secret like this tells our children that it’s okay if someone they trust asks them to keep a secret. The idea of the “no secrets rule” is that we don’t have any secrets in our family, no matter what anyone tells us. 

A few ways you can explain a “No Secrets Rule” to your children: 

  • “If someone tells you something bad will happen if you tell a secret, you still tell me the secret. Don’t believe them”. 
  • “If someone tells you that you will get in trouble for telling a secret, you tell me right away. You will NEVER get in trouble for it.”
  • “If someone tells you I’ll (or someone else) will be hurt because you told the secret, DON’T believe them, and tell me right away.”

Make sure your child knows who their trusted adults are – people who they can come to if they feel nervous or uncomfortable, or someone asks them to tell a secret. You can create a high-five safety team with your child. This will be five trusted adults who they can come to with anything. These people will not be mad or upset with them, and they will always be there to support your child.

So what about surprises?

When I talk about this topic, there is often much discussion about teaching our children the difference between secrets and surprises. How do we teach them that it’s okay to not tell someone about a surprise, but we need to tell someone about a secret?

Because these two concepts are so similar, it can be challenging for children to understand the difference. Here are a few points that can help children understand the difference between the two: 

  • Secrets make us nervous, worried, sad or scared to tell others, while surprises make us feel good, happy and excited. 
  • Secrets are meant to exclude others, while surprises are something that we will share with others.
  • Secrets don’t have an end date – we are told never to tell anybody, while surprises will come out eventually – we will surprise dad on his birthday.
  • “When we get you a special present for your birthday, and we don’t tell you what it is, that is a surprise! It is something you are excited about and that we can share with you.”
  • “Do you remember when we told you we were going somewhere special but didn’t tell you where? We surprised you with a trip to grandma and grandpa’s house, and you were so happy to see them! That was a surprise.”

Teaching children the difference between secrets and surprises and what to do if anyone ever tells them to keep a secret is one more way that we can begin to protect our children from abuse. It’s not an easy conversation, but it’s an important one.

If you are looking for more resources on teaching your children about body safety & consent check out our new workshop, Introduction to Body Safety & Consent!

Article By

Jess VanderWier
Jess is a seasoned Registered Psychotherapist with a deep commitment to enhancing emotional well-being in children and families. Holding a Master's in Counselling Psychology, Jess has extensive clinical experience in guiding parents through their children's intense emotions, sleep struggles, anxiety, and other challenges with empathy and understanding. In addition to individual sessions, she is known for her work educating parents on social media through @nurturedfirst. Outside of her professional life, Jess enjoys the peace of nature hikes and spending as much time as possible enjoying her family.