Trust is an extremely powerful concept. It takes time to build yet can be broken within seconds. Once broken, it takes far more time to rebuild it than it did to establish it in the first place. An honest relationship with open communication is imperative between parent and child, with the relationship of trust probably being the hardest one to establish. Aside from love, trust is the most important and strongest element you can establish with your children. If they can trust and believe in you, they will model that and become trustworthy. However, if they can’t trust and believe in you, they lose all faith in humanity and grow to have no respect for the bonds of trust.
Before writing this article, I asked my own children, “Do you trust me? I mean, do you really trust me?” What I learned from their answers and reasoning is that what creates trust from a parent’s perspective differs than from a child’s perspective. Parents have a hard time trusting children because of their sometimes dishonest and sneaky nature. However, if children are raised to value honesty, they will talk openly with parents and not feel the need to sneak around or lie. This allows parents to be informed and make informed choices when guiding children along life’s road. But I can guarantee you, if children don’t trust their parents for whatever reason, they will do everything they can to keep mom and dad in the dark. If you want to know what your children are doing, they need to be able to trust you enough to let you in on it. With that in mind, from the perspective of a child (which is the most important one because it is the one we, as parents, are trying to establish), here are the 5 most effective ways for a parent to earn a child’s trust:
1. Keep your word. Keeping your word about everything possible, no matter how small, is imperative. When parents tell a child they are going to do something, they need to make sure to follow through and do it. A pattern of promises kept lets children know that when mom or dad says something, they can take it to the bank. They trust that your word is as good as gold. In our home, we try to abide by the old principle, “Your word is your bond.” If you say you’re going to do something, do it. If you say something will happen, it needs to happen. But if you say something will be and repeatedly fail on your promises, your children will quickly learn that they can’t trust a word you say. Broken promises are a good way to lose valuable trust.
2. Be honest. Sure, parents sometimes must tell a little “white lie” to protect their children. But when it comes to important and meaningful questions, the best policy is to be honest, even if you have to sugar-coat it a little. Being honest does two things: It lets the child know that your answers are truthful, allowing them to be able to act upon them with confidence, and it sends the child the message that honesty, no matter how difficult it can sometimes be, is the right thing to do. By believing in honesty by seeing your example, children grow to be honest in return, allowing you to know they are where they say they are and they’re doing what they said they would be doing. Honesty without distorted repercussion establishes a child’s trust that they can talk to parents about anything.
3. Keep your cool. Parents who are approachable about sensitive issues build trust with the child. If a child knows he can come to you and you won’t “flip out” over something that warrants attention, he will trust you to help him come up with solutions and will trust your guidance through the situation. Parents who fly off the handle about issue after issue quickly send the message that they can’t be trusted to hear the child because the child is afraid of yelling, screaming, beating, and punishment. Parents who lose their cool and throw judgment at the child teach the child never to come back with an issue again. When the child can’t trust the parent to listen calmly, they turn to their inexperienced friends instead, and those are the last people you want guiding your child.
4. Be there for them. When kids know that mom and dad will be there for them, supporting them through crisis after crisis, they develop a bond of trust that is critical to open communication. My daughter said, “You were always there for me. Right or wrong, I knew you’d be right there.” By her knowing that I was on her team, even if we did have private conversations pointing out what she did wrong, she trusted that I was reliable. She knew that even when nobody else was there, I was, allowing her to put her full faith and trust in me. And since she trusted me, she shared a lot more with me than other girls did with their parents.
5. Be a role model. Don’t do anything sneaky or wrong that you wouldn’t raise your kids to do. Cheating, stealing, and disrespecting authority are behaviors your child will emulate. When a child hears you talk about trustworthy behavior, then sees you doing things that are completely contradictory to what you preached, they learn that if YOU can’t be trusted to be a good person, it’s okay for them to drop the efforts that establish trust, too. Exemplary behavior teaches lessons and establishes trust in your integrity. Poor, unacceptable behavior teaches a double standard, which is the same as being two-faced, and that’s the best way to lose your integrity and trust from your children.
Children watch how we, as parents, behave. If we keep our word, are honest, remain calm, are steadfast, and are well-behaved as we ask them to be, they learn that we can be trusted under all circumstances. And this level of trust, while hard to establish, is critical in raising children through the confusing years of adolescence. If you lay the groundwork for trust early, keep it strong through adolescence, and continue to respect it into adulthood, your children will never take anything you say or do with a grain of salt. Establish trust and you’re on your way to raising respectful, honest, moral human beings. Fail to be trustworthy and you can bet your children are up to way more than you know. As for me, I’d rather have trust and know what’s going on than be a lying dictator and be left in the dark. Aside from love, which is inherent, trust is the hardest, yet most valuable bond available when guiding children through the smoke and mirrors of life.