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What to do when your kid says, ‘Don’t tell Dad’

Should you keep your children's secrets from their other parent?
/ Source: TODAY

Your child confesses, “I have a secret ... but don’t tell anybody.” Do you respect their privacy or tell your partner?

"This morning, my middle baby child said, 'Mom, I’ve got to tell you something, but you can’t tell Dad,'" Molly Rainwater of Louisiana said in a recent TikTok video. "One thing about me and my husband and also my ex-husband, is we’re going to tell each other everything. We are."

Rainwater added, “Because number one, it’s hilarious, but also, number two, I’m not keeping secrets from them. I don’t expect them to keep secrets from me, but I also want to keep the trust of my children."

According to Rainwater, her children, ages, 3, 7, and 9, understand that whatever they share with one parent, the other — along with their two stepparents — will eventually learn.

The mom said in another video that she and her ex-husband "chose to be a team."

"I want to make sure that (my daughter) Avery is very well-adjusted, she knows that she is loved by all parties (and) there is no competition at all," she said.

Rainwater tells TODAY.com the family rule was implemented when her 7-year-old daughter Avery was younger.

"She went through a 'Let me tell you a secret' phase when she was 3," explains Rainwater. "Her dad and I thought it was best that we talk ... because we didn’t want other adults telling her to keep secrets from us."

Rainwater says the adults in her family agree that whoever is not the parent who hears the secret can't overreact to the news. "We want the other parent's response to be subtle so our kids don't fear telling (them) something."

Sharing “secrets” isn’t for gossip, but to keep her children safe, she says, especially since they are raised in two homes. It makes sure that kids feel loved by four important adults in their lives.

Most topics are shareable, says Rainwater, even if they’re embarrassing — a child of divorce might tell her mom about her first period, but dads need that information to stock their bathrooms with menstruation supplies.

Rainwater says her children occasionally feel strongly about privacy.

If the information is neutral, she respects their wishes; if it puts their safety or wellbeing at risk, Rainwater and her child discuss why the other parent isn't the best audience and how to change that.

Expert advice: Should parents tell kids' secrets?

"Making the decision to share or not share is about the severity of the information and why kids don’t want their other parent to know," psychologist Erika Stapert of Manhattan Psychology Group tells TODAY.com.

Confessing a crush or processing an argument with a friend could be areas on which parents agree to confidentiality, she says, to build trust with children.

"Some kids might feel more comfortable confiding in one parent over the other, due to personality, gender alignment or a parent's belief systems," she says. "However, if a situation calls for the other parent to monitor a child's safety — drug use, driving, curfews or academic concerns — that would be something to share."

Children should be able to trust their parents and inflexible rules about privacy won't encourage kids to communicate, says Stapert.

"If a child says, 'I can't tell dad because he'll laugh at me,' ask, 'Has it happened before?'" says Stapert. If your partner tends to react negatively, she adds, it's something to evaluate.

For news that's too important to contain, offer to communicate with the other parent on your child's behalf or sit with them as they open up to their other parent.

"Trust in a relationship is paramount," says Stapert. "If you have to share your child's information, tell them prior, 'Thank you for trusting me and here's why it's important for your other parent to know. We both support you.'"