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How to Really Build Trust with Your Kids

As parents, new babies are our pride and joy. They bring out an intense love and protective instinct in us immediately. We may not know how we will handle this thing called parenthood, and it can be terrifying to think about, but we know we’d do anything for them. Anything. Then they start growing up.

As they start to grow, roles and relationships shift. They start making friends and doing ballet or playing soccer—maybe both. I remember my daughter trying so hard to read at the age of 4. Infuriated her that she couldn’t. But then they move along in school and have homework that they don’t want to do. Maybe they do it, maybe they don’t but say they did. As they shift and change, so do you and your roles. What doesn’t change is the depth of your relationship. The relationship is first. The connection is key.

That connection is a constant cord, but it flexes and moves. Your relationship with your kids will change and develop as they mature. It’s essential to build a trusting relationship with your kids while they’re young. That trust needs to go both ways, though. Sometimes as parents, we don’t see the importance of that. Trust starts young. They trust us to do everything for them at first. Then they trust us to get them ready and help them make friends. They trust our rules and hopefully trust our unconditional love. But what we don’t always think about is that as they get older and push away, look for independence, that the trust still needs to be both ways.

We want to trust that they will do their homework, be polite, be kind and inclusive, and tell the truth. But they need to trust that we will be there for them no matter what. That we will love them AND hold them to our rules and values, even when they don’t want us to. We need to nurture trust carefully as they grow. It's not always easy--they are trying to push away and we are trying to pull them close.

For many families, trust can be a major stumbling block when it comes to the parent-child relationship. This is especially true as your children move on to middle school, the tween years, and then—you guessed it—to teenagers. You want to know that the trust you have in them isn’t misplaced, and honestly it will be at times. That's where the flex comes in. We still want them to know that they can trust us.

Broken Trust

Trust is broken when one person in a relationship doesn’t act like the other thinks they should. What that means is that communication is key. And ask kids grow that communication hits rough spots. They may lie, or stop talking as much. We may ask all the wrong questions and just get the eye rolls. Tweens and teens aren't programmed to just communicate about how their day is, who they are friends with, and did they do their homework. We need to adapt our expectations and also adapt to their new ones. Communication is the key to connection, and that is the key to maintaining a relationship, no matter their age.

So how do we keep that going and keep the lines of communication open? By setting expectations. What we expect from them and what they can expect from us. So the breaking of trust can look like a kid who says they turned their homework in, and the teacher must have lost it. But it could just as easily be a parent who stops coming to a teen’s sporting events for no apparent reason. In either case, trust is broken because someone did not meet what was expected of them.

Children want to trust their parents as much as we want to trust them. However, in many ways, parents—like our kids— still need to earn that trust. To do this, you must treat your child with respect, follow through on promises, and enforce household rules. Your child needs to know that you’ll always speak truthfully to them and be reliable. Because the next break in trust could be a teenager who sneaks out at night to go to a party. If, as a parent, you said call me no matter what, if you need a ride home or your friends are drunk—then you are the one on the hook now. Can your teen trust you to pick them up without getting angry?

Right then and there——trust is a two-way street. Children and teenagers need to show their parents that they’re trustworthy by following their parents’ rules. And we need to react and follow through on whatever we have said we will do as well. This goes back to acting as expected, which is so key for trust, connection, and respect.

Steps to a trusting relationship with your kids:

  1. Stress the fact that you’ll love them, no matter what. Children and teens need to know that they have your unconditional love.

  • Go ahead and tell them, “No matter what you do, I’ll always love you. That will never change. I may not like what you do, and there may be consequences for those actions, but my love for you will never change.”

  • Acknowledge that they may not always like you —and you’re ok with that. Your job is to be a parent. You are trying to raise a happy and successful adult!

  • You also may not be that thrilled with them. Again, that's ok. Relationships of any kind are not always happy--don't expect parenting and family to be different.

2. Keep the lines of communication open. Ask open-ended questions so you can learn to understand each other’s perspectives.

  • Try having a family meeting where you discuss the family’s rules and boundaries and the consequences of overstepping them.

  • You also may want to find time to spend one on one with your kids. Doing things together is a way of bonding and communicating.

  • You may find that car rides or bedtime are the best times to really talk and listen.

3. Explain the benefits of having your trust. Give them concrete reasons why being trustworthy is to their advantage.

  • For example, your child may ask to spend the night at a friend’s house. If they maintain a trusting relationship with you, you may be more willing to allow that privilege.

  • If they always come home on time, you’ll be open to negotiating a later curfew sometimes.

  • Let them know that you want their trust too.

4 Be clear on what success looks like. How will they know if they’re meeting your expectations if you never tell them what they are?

  • Explain to them that skipping homework, talking back, lying, and snotty attitudes may chip away at your trust.

  • However, finishing chores, doing their homework, speaking to you with respect, and calling in to ask you about a change in plans will go a long way to building trust.

  • Make them understand that trust is both ways, that respect goes both ways, and that you see them as a real person, not just their kid. Sometimes this is blurry in both directions.

5. Give your child positive reinforcement when they do something right. Show your appreciation for completing chores on time or doing more than expected.

  • Reward them with an extra half-hour of fun when they’re out because they’ve shown you that they can be trusted.

  • Have them fill a jar with things they like to do, and when they’ve done something nice or are having a tough day, let them take one out of the jar to do.

  • Spend time with them doing things they like. Bonding and trust often go hand in hand.

Trust is so important between a parent and a child. These steps can help you build a trusting relationship with your child and give you a stronger connection. This doesn’t mean you’ll never get angry or yell, and it doesn’t mean they won’t either. But perfect parenting does not exist. So just keep showing up, keep talking to your kids. You may just find that they rise above your expectations.

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