Trust is crucial in any family, a building block that leads to stronger relationships and the tight-knit family life that you’ve always wanted. Families are people’s main social groups. Sure, children drift through peer groups as they grow up, but it always comes back to the family. Having that trust is incredibly important, and building it must start at an early age.
For Children 3-7 Years Old
Always be honest. While this sounds rather straightforward, many parents tell “white lies” to children when they feel those children aren’t old enough to discuss a specific subject or when they simply don’t want to talk about it. Remember that children are sponges. They soak up everything you tell them. They build their worldviews around it.
Even the smallest things can shatter that trust. If a child finds out you’ve been lying about anything, or distorting the truth, it can make him or her question everything else you’ve said. Maybe you’ve been honest and open about everything else, however your child won’t know that. Now, from their point of view, there’s reason to doubt. The best way to build trust is to carefully and honestly approach sensitive subjects. Yes, you want to protect your kids and there are topics that they’re too young for, but it’s much better to be honest – perhaps even telling your kids they’re just too young – than to try to lie your way around an issue.
For Children 8-12 Years Old
Be reliable, consistent, and realistic. Don’t just be idealistic. If something is out of your control, don’t just tell your kids what they want to hear.
This is very important for kids between 8 and 12 because they’re starting to get more involved in activities. They have their own lives, and they want you to be part of it. For example, perhaps your child is on the basketball team and he or she wants you to come to a game. It’s a work night, though, and you think your boss is going to keep you a bit late.
You’ll be tempted to promise that you’ll make it to the game, just to make your child happy. You may even feel optimistic about it yourself, striving for that ideal. However, this is very dangerous. To you, seeing or missing one out of two dozen basketball games may not feel like a big deal. To the child, it may be a defining moment in your relationship. A broken promise can be devastating. That trust can be lost forever. Just apologizing and saying you hoped to be there isn’t enough. That’s an adult excuse, from an adult perspective. When dealing with children, it doesn’t cut it.
Consistency here is the real key. If you always keep your promises and then you come up short in one instance, it may be all right. But, if you consistently make promises you don’t keep, your child will have a very hard time ever trusting you.
For Children 13-18 Years Old
Apologize and admit your mistakes. As your children get older, they’re going to struggle with figuring out who they are and working on their own identities. They’re going to become independent. As that happens, their view of you will change. They’ll view you more as an equal, and they’ll expect you to be honest. If you make a mistake, own up to it. Say you’re sorry and that you’re not perfect.
This doesn’t mean you are the child’s equal. You’re still the parent, and you’re still in charge. But you don’t want to wield that power unapologetically when you’re clearly in the wrong. If you do, your child is going to know and understand what’s happening. They’ll see that you’re not treating them fairly. That can cause a breakdown in trust because they can never quite be sure you’ll treat them fairly going forward.
What you must do is live as you want your children to live. They’re becoming more independent, but they’re still learning from you. You want your kids to be honest and to apologize for their mistakes, and you need to set that example. This doesn’t undercut your power, as many parents assume. It strengthens it. Your kids will be far more likely to listen to you and take your advice seriously if they know you’re always honest and trustworthy, especially in the wake of a mistake.
A Trusting Family
Building trust starts today. Approach it with dedication, think about these steps with every decision you make, and know that working hard can help shape your family’s identity and relationships for years to come.