The feeling of shame about oneself, one’s family or events in the family, is extremely difficult to deal with. It is a feeling many of us run away from and avoid. One way we try to manage feelings of shame is by keeping secrets. It is understandable not to want our pain part of a public discussion.
However, sometimes shame leads to family secrets, such as hiding the identity of a child’s biological parent or failing to explain the sudden absence of a family member. Sometimes it feels easier not to talk about it. The problem is children are curious, and whether things are spoken about or not, they want to understand the issues that affect them. Without clear communication from the adults in their lives, they are left to wonder about these difficult things on their own. They may even fill in the gaps of a story with fantasies that are far worse than the truth. As parents and caregivers, it is our responsibility to help children come to terms with their reality. This may be painful, but it allows them to have a clear picture about their own life, which they can then come to terms with.
This does not mean that children need to be aware of all adult discussions and all the details of horrible events or financial stress. In fact, it is a parent’s duty to protect them from unnecessary traumatic information. However, where the information is about their own life story, it is important for them to get enough information to form a story about themselves that is clear, and without holes. Some parents believe that this kind of information is best kept from a child until they’re older. In most instances, children have some idea that there is a secret, and they worry about what it might be. The younger they are, the better they can use the adults around them to process their reality and come to terms with it. It also allows for the information to be given slowly and in age-appropriate pieces, rather than shocking them with information that changes their view of their life and of themselves. In fact, research shows that children who learn they are not being raised by a biological parent at a younger age tend to have better family relationships and mental health.
It can be very hard to sit with a young child and help them to process loss or trauma. As adults, we need to be brave and face this difficulty. In doing so, we are also modelling to our child that we can face it together. If you relate to this article and need some support with the process of sharing with your child, please contact Ububele.
Written by Rosemary Picas,
an Ububele Counselling