Trust is one of the most important aspects of a healthy parent-child relationship. It might be wise to be somewhat wary of certain situations and people one meets in life, but our parents should be a safe haven – the ones on whom we can count when the rest of the world fails us.
Building trust begins on day one, but might be most challenging when kids begin to experience much of life outside the home, as teenagers. It is good to have ones’ ideals and philosophies challenged, but self-confidence is important, and comes from knowing we stand on a solid foundation. Trustworthy parents are a big part of that.
A Foundation of Trust
When our children are very small, before they go to school, they trust their parents almost completely. They don’t realize that other ways of life exist and have no reason to question the words of the people who offer the most love and care.
Actively building trust is still important, however. Listen closely to what your child has to say, and make it evident that you’re hearing him or her. Answer any questions truthfully in an age appropriate manner. Refer to body parts with the correct terms and be honest about the fact that a shot at the pediatrician’s office will hurt a bit. Practice what you preach, whether it’s by eating your fruits and vegetables or fessing up when you break a promise.
The Middle Years
By the age of eight or so, it’s likely your child has gotten decent at pulling off a fib here and there. Continue to build trust with the habits of earlier years, but make it abundantly clear that you expect honesty in return. There will always be things your kids don’t want to share, but if you create an open, judgment-free environment, those things might be fewer. When pre-teens are forthcoming, be certain to recognize the truthfulness with appreciation.
You’ll probably experience times when one party or the other breaks trust, and that’s far easier to do than form it. Rebuilding takes work, but is a must. As a parent, be consistent by enforcing rules, and be respectful by not unnecessarily snooping in your child’s belongings or social life. Bear in mind that building trust is not about being friends, but about being a reliable parent. The key is to strike that balance between trusting too much and allowing your child to get involved in dangerous activities and trusting too little, which can push a child to be sneakier and sneakier in all respects.
Teens and Trust
When you have a teenager, you might feel like the relationship is all about damage control and rebuilding trust. Keep in mind that the more you commit to maintaining the trust, the brighter the future for your relationship with this future adult.
Since your child is now capable of more complex conversations, feel free to talk about trust and what it means to you. Because you expect more adult-like behavior, open up adult discussions with a cost-benefit analysis of honesty and the potential for removed freedoms. Clearly list expectations and don’t be afraid to call you son or daughter out on poor behavior. When set rules are broken, follow through with the consequence, remembering to avoid judgment and shaming. Finally, acknowledge positive behavior with positive reinforcement.
A Life-Long Bond
Trust is a project at any age, and the life-long bond between parents and children requires it constantly. Have trust in yourself, and be confident that you’ll find that balance with your child. With some effort on both sides, and the security of unconditional love, you’ll both enjoy a solid, rewarding relationship.