10 March 2009

How Do Parents Earn the Trust of Their Children?

Trust. Without it, everything falls apart, especially in a family setting. When it is assumed, our most important relationships are bound to fail and that leaves us feeling desperate.

Children can explore the world confidently only if home remains a safe place to recuperate from life’s inevitable bruises. When home offers trust instead of criticism and rejection, kids are somewhat insulated from the bad elements of the world. Unfortunately, they often resort to the world because home has failed them. When children don’t develop a bond of trust with parents, home becomes an emotional prison from which they will do anything to escape.

Trust for children is important because when it is broken they have no other connections to keep them stable. In an effort to meet this need they desperately latch on to whoever and whatever will suffice. When family, the first authority structure in their lives, fails to meet this deepest of human needs all authority figures and institutions become suspect. Legislators, law enforcement and educational institutions are then viewed suspiciously. The very people who can protect them and encourage their development are forsaken. Gangs, cliques, clubs, radicals and all the questionable activities associated with them are the only options a trust-seeking child has.

The truth? We avoid people we don’t trust and gravitate to those we do and this natural, almost instinctive, human response is limited by no moral restrictions. People have been known to do anything for and with those with whom they sense a degree of trust. Once a trust is established, loyalty is never challenged by right or wrong.

All of that is to say that trust in the family is essential. A well-balanced perspective on life and the world around us hinges on the trust parents can establish with their children. When children don’t learn to trust mom and dad first, huge problems can occur.

So the question is how can a parent earn the trust of their children? A lot rides on getting this right and there are several important points to consider.

You must earn it.
Trust is not like obedience. Children obey us because they have to. Trust, however, must always be earned, even by parents. If your child doesn’t trust you it is your fault not theirs. To earn it you will have to change. You might have to apologize.

Be fair.
One goal of the parenting effort is to teach children to be trustworthy. When they don’t immediately demonstrate this quality parents are disappointed, sometimes angry and always frustrated. Every wise parent will be careful not to express these feelings but on occasion even the wisest will slip. The children in turn will feel misunderstood and in extreme cases rejected. Fortunately, children are resilient and will bounce back when parents change their attitude.

But, what happens when parents break trust? Are children allowed to be disenchanted? Can they express their frustrations and afterward apologize for being impatient and judgmental? Are they given fair consideration when their expectations haven’t been satisfied? A child’s reaction to parental failures shouldn’t be viewed as disrespect. In fact, they should be allowed more leverage in this regard. Parents are adults and should be better experienced at keeping their promises. When kids make hurtful but honest observations about our failures parents must be big enough to allow it and acknowledge the wrong. Trust will be restored and children will be affirmed.

Be protective.
People trust others with many things: money, responsibilities, time, property and so on. Kids have none of these. They trust us with things that are much more personal: feelings, thoughts, expectations and image. When a child’s ideas are dismissed and their feelings ignored they close down. Being casual about promises and ridiculing their image pushes them away. They draw back emotionally and shut off mentally. Under these circumstances it isn’t unusual for them to find someone else to bond with.

Their problematic experiences are humorous to us but our laughter may make them feel less like a person and more like a joke. Don’t abuse their sense of significance.

Be open to who they are.
Nurture their individuality. Every parent can visualize exactly what their child will become, usually before they are born, sometimes before their conception but unfortunately, there are no “order-forms” for children. What you are given is what you get and it may be very different to what you anticipated. Instead of a Super Bowl winning quarterback, your son might be inclined toward cheffing or art or design work of some kind. Instead of home making, your daughter might choose engineering or research in aboriginal communities of the world. See your children as prototypes not stereotypes. Encourage the development of their individuality don’t fight it.

Be open to what they think.
Don’t just allow your children to speak their mind encourage it. Draw them out. Everyone can come up with good ideas even kids. Asking a child what he or she thinks and attending to what they say is a great way to build trust. Everyone is drawn to those who listen to them intentionally. Encourage your kids to talk and listen, without reacting, when they do.

Be encouraging and personable.
Notice your kids often. Take time to observe and recognize their abilities. Don’t assume they know how special they are tell them. Corrections, which are inevitable, are much easier to process if preceded by lots of “atta-boys.” They will begin to believe in themselves, will develop accordingly and will trust your judgment because of it. They will also learn the art of recognizing and personally acknowledging the value of others.

Be yielding.
Controlling children is not the object. They will love you greatly and trust you absolutely if you enable them to become independent. Giving them carefully measured and increasing amounts of space to experience the world beyond your presence does two things. It enables them to learn where the pitfalls are and it sends the message that you, the parent, believe in them.

No parent is capable of keeping children from every possible mistake. Reassure them up front that mistakes are a normal part of learning and you will be there when they happen. If parents do their job properly, children will have no problem trusting them with their mistakes.

Be intentional.
Childhood is by nature a growing stage in life but the growth is always most rewarding when it isn’t accidental. Help your children formulate reasonable, age appropriate goals to guide their development. When goals are reached, reward them. When they fall short investigate without incrimination.

As much as possible, let them decide what pursuits to engage. Don’t demean their rate of progress or criticize their interests. Character is developed in every discipline and if proper parental management is exercised trust will be the outcome.

Remember that no one stands alone. We need people and the ones we trust are the ones to whom we attach ourselves. As children grow older they will develop trust with an increasing number of people. If parents do their job properly the new people will be additions, not replacements.