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Family Secrets
Episode 118 β€’ 7th September 2023 β€’ How Not to Screw Up Your Kids β€’ Dr Maryhan
00:00:00 00:23:27

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Every family has a past which they want to shield their children from. It may be a relative with an addition, a past severe mental health issue, a criminal record or simply something you have not yet found the right way to talk to your children about. I will share my tips on if, when, and how we have these conversations with our children.

Here are the highlights:

(2:30) Why it’s important to share family information

(6:45) Timing is everything

(7:50) Try to avoid it being a big conversation 

(12:30) Plan explanations in advance so you don't panic 

(15.45) Give you child time to process the information and encourage them to ask questions when they're ready

(19:00) Accept it's likely to open old wounds and everyone needs time to heal. Be kind to yourself!

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Transcripts

00:13

Hello, and welcome to the how not to screw up your kids podcast. So pour yourself a cuppa, find a comfy seat and enjoy the conversation. Before we start today, I would like to make a request when in fact, actually I'd like to make three requests. If you enjoy listening to this podcast, it would mean so much to me, if you could spare the time to do three things, so number one by following the podcast. This means as each episode comes out, it'll automatically be downloaded to your podcast library, ready for you to listen to whenever it suits you. Whether that's walking the dog is listening in the car, taking a bit of a tea break coffee break, whatever that might be, to follow the podcast, please. By rating the podcast, which literally genuinely takes two seconds to click on the number of stars. This, along with my next request will help other parents, educators and those who want to impact children's lives, it will help them find the podcast, as Apple and Spotify will suggest it as something that's worth listening to. The third one is by reviewing the podcast, which I will give you it does take a little bit of time to think of what to say, which hopefully is just sort of what you love about the podcast, how useful it is while you keep downloading it. But that is literally just like a testimonial. And that allows other parents who have the podcast suggested to them, it helps them understand and see why it might also be helpful to them, too. If you could do all three, that would be amazing. But even if you just do one or two, thank you in advance for finding the time to do it. Now back to the podcast episode. This is episode 118 190. And today's episode family secrets, I want to share my tips on if when and how we have conversations with our children, about skeletons in our family or more like closely guarded information, which we haven't necessarily sort of been keeping a secret from our children, but we just have not yet told them or we're thinking maybe we shouldn't tell them, really because it comes from that sort of desire. And that need is not that, you know, we have a desire to be secret, or you know, to keep the secrecy. But it's generally come from that perspective of thinking, I don't either don't know whether it's really relevant for our children to know or I know that it's something so so feels like it's something monumentally impactful that we feel that we don't know how to share it, or we don't even know that it's worthwhile sharing. So this might be, it might be about a parent, or grandparents mental health, it might be an illness, it might be alcoholism, that's within the family, it might be drug use, it might be around adoption, either of your children themselves, or of you or part of your family. It might be circumstances around a family member's death. So whether that was drug related or suicide, or alcoholism, it could be around infidelity, and so on, and so on, and so on. So you kind of get the gist, there's probably there could be all sorts of things. And potentially you can talk about it on a scale, you know, it could be something that feels not very doesn't feel like a big impactful thing. Whatever the case, whatever the scenario is, my personal view is that honesty is the best policy because children ask questions, they become curious about their family and circumstances around, you know, a family death, for example, you know, they'll they'll ask questions about that they'll ask about the lives of their aunts, their uncles, their grandparents, their cousins. So my general view is that honesty is the best policy because these things usually have a way of coming out. And then we'll end up probably having to answer more questions as a result of not talking to them, not revealing them earlier, compared to just being truthful. Now, obviously, we're more talking about I've got five top tips in terms of doing this, though there is an element of when do we do this. But I think if in the forefront of our mind is that actually, these are things we need to share with our children because they're going to be impactful. Also, one of the kind of the crucial things is that there's a massive cost and impact to carrying the secret, not only in terms of whoever's carrying that secret that well being children are really adept at picking up on atmospheres and sort of the unwritten things that are not the things that are not said. I mean, you'll know that even if you're not holding a family secret, and you're listening to this, but maybe you're tired or you're stressed about something or you've had a difficult conversation with your partner or there's friction somewhere. Children are supremely adept at picking up on some of these things. So we think we're keeping these big family secrets and to protect our children.

05:00

And but our children know that something is not quite right. And often when we then have the conversations, there's a huge amount of relief because they've sensed that something's been withheld from them. So it's, you know, the impact of carrying that the way that the family dynamic works, particularly if it's a secret that is sort of widely held amongst your entire larger family. And when you get together, there are certain people that you don't discuss, you know, great Auntie Mabel, because she was particularly rebellious and promiscuous, and she used a lot of drugs, whatever it might be, these things have a tendency to come out. And they will impact that in terms of well being. But also, what it's likely to do is it will impact your behaviour. So for example, if there's

05:44

alcoholism or addiction within the family or mental health issues, what typically then happens is, you carry that anxiety and that worry that it's then going to be inherited, and that your child is going to inherit that genetic sort of marker. And so of course, what that then does, even though you think to yourself that you're not doing it is your response to things with your children are going to be much more amplified, because there's that worry that that Oh, my goodness me, that addiction, addictive personalities coming out in my child or that mental health issue, I can see it. And so we go into super protection mode, or super hyper alert, super hyper vigilant. And so it's, that's why these things are so important that we kind of we don't keep those things quiet. But we have those conversations. So you know, I think we all if we take it as a given that we need to have these conversations, I guess the next logical question then becomes when and how? So my five top tips are around, when should we have these conversations? And how do we have them so here goes, let's dive in. The first one is timing is everything, you know, you need to do this, you need to have that conversation, when your child is at an age and stage where they're able to process what you're going to reveal. And it may well be that, you know, there's no hard and fast rule here, there isn't a when your child reaches this sort of age where they reach their teens, or when they reach their, you know, their eight or nine, it really we know that children develop in lots of different ways in terms of their maturity in terms of their ability to accept concepts, in terms of just, you know, life experiences. So it's really being mindful of the timing in terms of your the age and stage of your child, but also in terms of the what might also be occurring in terms of their experiences, their personality and things that might be happening in their life. So it's really thinking around, when is that appropriate time to have those those particular conversations. And that leads into this notion that, you know, I talk about this quite often when I talk about having difficult conversations with our children. And it is, it's really strongly believe that we shouldn't be having these big conversations. It's not that I'm against having in depth, meaningful, deep conversations. It's just I feel that when we have these sort of big, you know, we need to talk about sex, we need to talk about drugs. It kind of creates this amplification of something that should be a topic that we talk about all of the time. It isn't just the problem with having these big conversations is that it almost feels like it's presented as a right I'm having this big conversation with you is done. It's dusted. Now let's just That's it, let's move on. Oh, notion of communicating with our children is that is something that we do all of the time. So the timing is crucial in terms of you may well find that you're actually unprepared because the right time might be when your child asks you a particular question, what you need to be thinking about, and bearing in mind is the children have like memories of elephants. So if they have sort of asked questions, and we have batted away, or we have been we've lied, or we've been deceptive rather than seeing Do you know what, this is not necessarily the timing that I was going to have this conversation with my child, but they've asked me a question that is directly relevant to the family secret that I'm keeping. And by deflecting from that, it's it they're going to when I do have that conversation, they're going to be questioning Well, why did you not tell me this? It really important that we kind of consider these things. And sometimes we kind of act impulsively, and our children say something and we kind of go, oh my god, I'm not ready to have that conversation yet. So we batted away. But that's the whole reason why I'm such a big advocate for us taking time to reflect, to process to be on our own. You know, whether that's a morning routine, whether we deliberately set aside some time, at the end of the day, whatever it is that you do, it is really crucial that we reflect on our parenting because when that happens when we backed something away when

10:00

We've had an ideal opportunity to have that conversation with our child or at least begin to have that conversation. If we've reflected, we're much more likely to then be able to go back to our child and say, you know, you asked me that question about granddad. And I said to you at the time, you know that it was x, actually, that really wasn't the case, it sort of caught me a bit off guard, and I didn't really know how to respond. What actually happened with grandad was. So it's that it's so crucial that we have that reflective practice, none of us, none of us, literally, none of us, including me, massively included, are going to get things right first time, whether that's parenting or any aspect of our lives. And that's why having giving that kind of commitment to ourselves that we are going to give ourselves some time each day. And then also at the end of the week to just be and not beat ourselves up in that reflective practice of Oh, my goodness, me, I'm such a bad parent, I'm always angry, I'm always rushed. And it's been time with my children, whatever that might be, that you beat yourself up with. That's not the purpose of the reflective practice. It's simply to kind of have that moment of where have I not shown up the way that I would really like to show up? Is there something I can do about it? And if there is, what am I going to do? And how am I going to do it? So timing is everything, not only from the age and stage, but also the opportunities which might present themselves where you can have those particular conversations. Don't beat yourself up. If when you have an opportunity, you bet it away, go back to it and talk to your children. So we had this, I responded in this way. And actually on reflection, there's there. So the first one, the second one, is this idea about trying to avoid it becoming a big conversation, because when it becomes a bigger conversation, it sets up a whole load of expert kind of expectation, and sort of it that it looks in a particular way. And I also think it puts a lot of there's a lot of weight and a lot of load and a lot of gravitas to that one big conversation, which we just don't want to put there. And of course, it just raises the question about why we haven't had those before. And things should feel much more natural. Where possible. Sometimes it doesn't sometimes it does end up having to be this okay, well, we need to have a conversation about this, because of the context or life, the way the way that it's gone. But really try and avoid the preparation for it as being this huge, great big conversation. So timing is everything, we want to try and avoid it being a big conversation. The next bit is about planning what you're going to say in advance and consider some explanations that you might need to give to your children for why you've not said anything before they this may come up this may not. And the planning is not about being micro managing the situation or, you know, learning verbatim what you're going to say. But I think sometimes we find ourselves getting slightly tripped. So and often it's the first few is those first few sentences. It's how we position it within that conversation. And I would say that's where you're having a conversation with really good friends, your tribe, your community, your partner, around, how can we have you know, how can we set this up in such a way that when it doesn't get set up as this big conversation, it doesn't become set up as this big, dark secret that we've been keeping. But much more a case of you're at this particular agent stage, we've noticed that we think that it's important that you do this, you've now reached a point where this is probably really important, yet relevant for you in terms of your growing and your learning. So it's really planning in advance, how might you position that, and also, where you might be able to sort of talk about why you're having that conversation now while you're beginning to kind of explore these areas. And it might be that you talk specifically about it being relevant to a particular period of time in your child's life and some experiences that are going through, or it might be that you're you talk about it being relatively important because of something that's coming up, or whatever that might be, it's just really giving that time to plan. And in some circumstances, not really not all circumstances, but in some circumstances, you may it may be helpful to seek professional advice about how you then had that conversation. My personal view is that you shouldn't need to do that. These are things that you can have conversations around, but there might there may well be some circumstances where you you just feel that it's wise to get some professional help in terms of how you position that. Obviously, the bigger that we the bigger the issue that we

15:00

You make it the bigger the kind of like a big conversation, I think the more frightening it can feel for our children, which is why I think it's just having those honest conversations and really beginning to, I feel sort of like drip feed these, the truths. And the secrets at an agent stage that our children can understand using language that they can understand using concepts that they can understand is far better than leaving it and having these sort of big whopping conversations. So timing is everything we want to avoid, try and avoid it being a big conversation. And it's planning what we're going to say in advance and considering that explanations of why we've might not said anything before, the fourth one, and this is relevant when we're ever when we're having any bit, any sort of conversation or difficult conversation with our children, is that give your child time to process and encourage them to ask questions when they're ready. Some children will ask lots of questions almost immediately. But in the main, most children will just need some time to kind of digest. And it obviously, a lot of it depends on the context in which you've had the conversation, whether they've been engrossed in something else, and you've broken, you've broken them away from that, but their mind is still there, whether the conversation has been started, you've kind of had that deeper conversation off the back of a question that they've had. So you just be just give them time to process and encourage them, you know, just let them know that you're there to ask questions. Now, some children may seem fine. So they'll tell you, I'm not fine. Yet, that's not a problem. And they might not want to discuss it further. That might be a mechanism for them, in terms of is just too much. And I don't even know where to begin. It may be that they feel that they need to say that because they want to protect you. They don't want you to be hurt. Maybe they've got some questions. So what we want to do without kind of badgering them, but we want to keep letting them know that we're there. And that we're ready to answer questions, if and when they need to, is that kind of holding that safe space, but also accepting that the way that they process the information that you've given them, may well be very different to you, you may be somebody, and this is a classic for me and with my with my own children is I'm a classic, like, let's talk about it. Let's have a conversation I've been reflecting. And I've got these questions. And how are you feeling about that? I'm a talker, let's talk, let's talk, let's talk, probably why have a podcast. But I naturally want to do that. And obviously my children are not both like that. So they're not necessarily want to do that. So it's being respectful and being reminding ourselves that the way that we process information is going to be different to others. And so it was I might want to talk about things immediately and reflect and just get everything out and go to all sorts of different places and spaces with it that my children won't necessarily do that. And that they might need to sit with it for days, weeks, months, before they come they ask questions in all you might be the exact opposite. You may be someone that needs to sit with something. And then your children might be constantly asking questions. So it's just being aware. We want to give them time to process we want to accept, acknowledge and accept and remind ourselves that the way that they process things, and they work through things are going to be different to the way that we do and remembering that so we're not necessarily going to get a mirror from our children around the way that we process things. And that's absolutely okay, we've not screwed them up. We've not messed them up in any way. They're just working through it the way that they need to work through it. So timing is everything. We want to avoid the big conversation, we want to plan in advance roughly what we're going to say we want to give our children time to process and encourage them to ask questions. And the fifth one, and I think this is a really crucial one is that we need to accept that it's likely to open up old wounds, and everyone needs time to heal. If we'd been holding something, some secret, whatever that might be, that might be that's had an impact on us. There's a phenomenal book about the body keeps score. It's this notion that whatever we hold on to whether we hold on to a secret whether we hold on to an emotion that we're feeling, it has its impact on our body in some way, you know, that is going to and so once we've revealed the secret once we've worked to a particular emotion, kind of potentially bring through a grieving process or hurt whatever it might be for you. It really accepting that that is likely to have an impact on you in some way. And whilst you know the focus is often on how's it affecting my child how

20:00

They processing it, I want to make sure that they're okay. Is it impacting their sleep, they're not eating as much as that because of what I've just told them, I've noticed that they're getting more anxious. This is why family secrets are not great because we end up projecting so much of what's going on for us and seeing it in our children sometimes when it may not actually be there. So when we must remember that we need time to heal, and rather than looking outwards at how it's affecting our children, we also need to look inwards as to how it's affecting us, and being kind to ourselves and acknowledging that that that that wound opening is likely to create some challenges for us. And it may well be that we can work through that on our own. But it may well be that actually, it's time to get some support. And that support may well just be with family, or your tribe, and you're really close friends that you're super vulnerable and open with. And it could also mean that it's the time that you need some professional support as well to go through that. So it's accepting that it's likely to open up these wounds. So be kind to yourself, as well as being kind to others. Don't just make that focus around making sure that your children are okay and the others are alright. But actually accepting that it's likely to open up old wounds, and that those wounds may well extend beyond that very immediate small family unit that you have, but might ripple out. This is a sort of a family secret about a grandmother or great or a great grandfather or an aunt or an uncle or a cousin, it's going to have a ripple effect beyond the immediate family that you're talking to about your with your children, but also others. So it's about understanding that healing, and it may be about having to have some difficult conversations may be the process of you being honest, has created some friction within the family, maybe other family members would much rather it remained a secret. And so it's, it's accepting that it's likely to open up old wounds, and where possible, it may well be that you need to have conversations beyond just your family, and also begin to kind of heal those particular relationships. So just a recap in terms of the five it's about timing is everything, age and stage as well as opportunity. It's about trying to avoid having these big conversations or positioning it as a big conversation. It's planning what you're going to say in advance. So that just helps you kind of transition into it. Allowing and giving your child your child time to process but also encouraging them to ask questions. And accepting that it's likely to open up all wounds for you, as well as potentially extended family. To my give this week is going to be these top five strategies. In our my usual checklist with some space to reflect under the underneath pop over to www.drmaryhan.com/library, where you'll find the link to download that particular resource. You just have to pop in your email address, and you'll get instant access not only to this week's podcast resource, but all the resources across all my other podcast episodes, as ever, as I said in the intro earlier on. If you have enjoyed this episode, I would be so grateful I would love it if you could follow and review this podcast so that others can find us and we can spread the love. So until next time

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