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How honest should I be with my kids?

by ines.wurbs@icloud.com

We parents tend to think that we are better at dealing with the truth than our children. But, is this the truth? No, our kids are better. 

Our children tolerate the truth and have the right to hear it. As parents, we are responsible for teaching our children this truth in an age-appropriate manner. If we don’t do this, there can be far-reaching consequences.

Here, you can find out why and how dangerous secrets are for your children.

Why do we hide the truth from children?

We want to protect our children, rightly see our children as those in need of protection, and want to spare them suffering. We are often unsure of what our children can handle or not. We may be afraid of inflicting emotional wounds on them or opening up old wounds.

Sometimes we simply don’t know how to tell them and prefer not to. We, humans, tend to choose the easy way.

But sometimes we don’t just want to protect our children. Not talking about something also protects us. However, I can tell you right away that this usually doesn’t go well in the long term.

When error becomes collective, it acquires the strength of truth.

Anna Freud

How do you teach your children the truth?

  • Empower your children: Strong, confident children cope much better with difficult times and issues. Children who know whom to rely on, how to express their feelings, and where their limits are, are much better able to mobilize their resources for difficult times. So, you can use these resources more effectively to get through difficult times well. I have summarized more tips on how to strengthen your children in an extra article here
  • Being a role model: Our constructive handling of difficult issues, such as grief, helps our children to feel safe, to orientate themselves towards us, and thus learn from us how to master crises. The concealment of difficult topics deprives our children of these opportunities. Check out this article for the way to be a good role model.
  • Be honest: Being honest with your child, even though it may not be easy when it comes to difficult issues, strengthens your bond and trust. We show our children a constructive way to deal with such situations, with honesty alone.

Why telling the truth is important for children

Secrets even have a demonstrably negative effect on our children: only the information can be concealed, but not our feelings. This means that our children are likely to realize something is wrong. This creates uncertainty and leads to children making up their minds. However, if they lack the information our children relate a lot to themselves, they are very likely to draw wrong conclusions, which may also lead to self-reproach. 

  • During this, our children also do not learn to express their feelings correctly because adults, in our efforts to cover up something, may deny these feelings to our children. So, they don’t learn from us.
  • We pretend not to be sad. Nevertheless, they see our flatter facial expressions and experience our gloomy mood. Therefore, they realize that something is wrong. But because we don’t admit it to them, children tend to believe that their assumptions are wrong. They learn that they misidentified the feelings. This also hurts self-esteem.
  • Secrets act like a barrier between those who have secrets and those who are being lied to. Of course, this has a bad effect on trust and your parent-child bond.

How to tell your kids the truth

  • Whenever possible, convey difficult truths in a familiar, safe environment
  • Preferably only within the family and without outsiders
  • Use clear, honest words: Don’t use circumlocution or metaphor. Try to avoid misunderstandings.
  • Always age-appropriate: so choose the words so that they correspond to the age and language of your child, and try to concentrate on the essentials of the problem first. So, it is clearer for your child.
  • Admit your feelings as well and explain them to your child
  • Tell your child that you will be happy to answer any of their questions about this, if possible. Give your child time and space for all inquiries. Children often come with questions only after some time, or even in the next few days.
  • Also, try to clarify for your child that they are not to blame for the situation. Children often blame themselves for the misfortunes of others.
  • Initiate the kindergarten teachers or your child’s teachers into the family situation. Your child may behave differently during difficult times, or perhaps raise the issue with their educators. In this way, they can respond better to your child and react appropriately.
  • If in doubt, get help from outside.


Children often take the truth better than we adults think. They accept things as they are and try to deal with them. Of course, it is important and necessary to stand by them and help them. Let your child be part of your entire life because this is the only way they can learn what they need for their own life.

Reding tip

If mysteries interest you, you can read more about mysteries in general and our reasons for them in an article from the British psychological society.

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