Do You Have a Secret? by Jennifer Moore-Mallinos is a great book about good and bad secrets, how to tell the difference between them, and the importance of telling secrets that make you feel uncomfortable, yucky, or unsafe. I use it — along with my Good Secrets Box and Secret Cards — in first grade class councils and with individual kids in a range of ages. It’s probably best for preschool-grade 2, but older kids sometimes like to read it too. (I love to give older kids books to “review” for younger readers. It helps teach or reinforce concepts and gives struggling readers an opportunity to feel successful and reluctant readers the feeling that they “got off” easy! See my post on Book Studies for more info.)
Do You Have a Secret? explains that “good secrets are things that can make you and somebody else very happy.” Examples include a surprise party, a hide and seek hiding spot, gifts, a special handshake, and a secret about sleeping with a teddy bear when you’re scared. Bad secrets are things that make you feel unhappy or worried. Examples include being hurt, seeing someone steal or bully, and being touched in a way that makes you feel sad, scared, uncomfortable or yucky.
The illustrations of uncomfortable touch and of being told to keep a secret are evocative but sensitively done. They communicate the yucky, uncomfortable feelings that a child in this situation would experience without being too frightening. The picture of uncomfortable touch shows a girl sitting on the floor cutting out a shadow-gray paper figure. Two larger than life-size shadow-gray hands reach down, slowly surrounding her. The picture of being told not to tell shows a boy sitting on the floor with some unhappy, voiceless drawings he has made on gray graph paper that leave a lingering feeling of being caged. The adult admonishing him to keep the secret is a shadow figure, also made of the gray, cage-like graph paper. These pictures offer a lot of opening for good discussion. They are great for teaching in the classroom, but are also particularly helpful when working with individuals. I sometimes pull this book out in situations where a child has had feelings of being trapped and powerless; they often really respond to these pictures, which can help them open up and/or feel validated.
After giving examples of good and bad secrets, the book teaches kids the importance of telling an adult and lists examples of who those adults might be. It concludes with reminders that good secrets can be fun if they make you and someone else happy, but bad secrets “about being hurt on the outside or feeling sad or scared on the inside” should always be told.
I like this book a LOT, and so do the kids. I do make a couple of additions as I read. With every example of good secrets I cue the kids to identify that the child in the picture AND someone else feel happy about the secret, and with every example of bad secrets I cue the kids to point out that the child does NOT feel happy about the secret. We talk about each picture and situation and look for evidence about how the kid is feeling. I also remind the kids that good secrets don’t stay secret for very long — only until the gift is given, the hiding place is discovered, or the surprise is revealed. I think that making this “time limit” distinction helps gives kids another way to determine whether a secret is good or bad.
In our follow-up discussion I ask some tricky “what if” questions like “What if the other person is REALLY happy about it and you feel A LITTLE unhappy about it? Would you still need to tell?” and “What if you really, really love the other person and you want them to be happy even though it makes you feel scared?” We also review that a THREAT not to tell is a CLUE that you have to TELL, which they already know from our bullying unit.
Along with the book, I also bring my Good Secrets Box (made out of a gift box and several colors of shiny wrapping paper, labeled with a gold sharpie), as well as a collection of Secret Cards that I printed on card stock and cut out. Each of the cards has a situation in which someone has told the student to keep a secret (e.g. “Someone told you to keep a secret about a grown up game,” “Someone told you to keep a secret about flowers for your teacher”). After reading the book and reviewing the concepts of good secrets and bad secrets, I show the class my Good Secret Box and tell them we’re going to practice what to do when there is a secret. Each student takes a turn coming up to the front of the circle to choose a Secret Card.
I read the card to the student, who then decides whether it is a good or bad secret (and tells us why they think so). I ask the kid to think about whether they AND someone else (like their mom or their teacher) would feel happy about it. If it is a good secret, the student puts the card into the box (for a little while). If it is a bad secret, he/she tells the classroom teacher or me that someone has told him/her to keep a secret about whatever the card says. Not surprisingly, I have many more examples of bad secrets than good secrets. After everyone has had a turn, the kids who had good secrets come back to the front and practice what to do when they have a bad secret. We then take the good secrets out of the box, because good secrets don’t stay secret for very long. If you’d like to see or use the Secret Cards, click here.
Here’s a funny story that occurred after this lesson last week. One of our first grade teachers has a daughter in a different first grade class. At home in the evening, the teacher mom asked the daughter how class council went. “Oh, I got a bad one!” she replied. Knowing that her daughter was referring to the Secret Cards, the mom asked,”Which one was it?” With great inflection, he daughter said, “Someone told me to keep a secret about them touching my private parts.” Her dad, who had only been half-listening to the conversation, registered that last line and about levitated out of his chair, shouting, “What?!!!!” The mother/daughter pair had a good laugh at the dad’s gymnastic response, and then the daughter explained that we had been practicing, and that now she knows what to do if someone tells her to keep a bad secret. Poor dad! (But doesn’t picturing his reaction make you grin?)
I’ve got some other great personal safety resources and lessons that I use with older kids to share soon. What do you do to help teach kids about personal safety?
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