Do You Trust Me?: Building Trust with Your Kid

Trust is a necessary foundation in establishing a bond and engaging with another being. It is a safe space between one another that is free from judgment or pain. But, trust doesn’t “just happen”; one’s actions and behaviors help people determine if someone is trustworthy.  As parents, we have a huge influence in how our children develop trust with themselves and others. This assurance is significant to their social, cognitive, and emotional development.

When our kids were infants, establishing trust came from being responsive and attuned to their cries and needs, even if we initially got their requests wrong. They realized that we would be there for them, be attentive to them, and comfort them when they needed it.

At the toddler stage, they begin to know what they want and what they don’t, often expressing this with big emotions. How we handle these demands help further trust with our children, as well as set boundaries if requests are unreasonable.

But at a certain age, between 3-4 years, our sweet angels begin to lie. WHAT?! When did this happen?

Fun fact: If your child is lying, it means they have achieved an important cognitive milestone. As their prefrontal cortex develops and matures, they gain the ability to lie. This skill requires empathy, perceiving to have crucial information others don’t, and recognition of social rules and consequences. They also need impulse control and a good working memory to deceive. As they age and their cognition improves, the lies become more complex and believable.

Yes, lying is “bad,” but it is a choice to purposely do so. The cognitive skills needed to fib are the same ones that promote effective communication, peer relationships, and elaborate and collaborative pretend play. The ability to balance multiple realities and recognize the differences between real-life and fiction are needed to be creative and to tell a good lie. That might explain why preschool-age kids have exaggerated and fantastical stories when you ask them what happened in school. They aren’t intentionally trying to lie to you.

As much as we should be happy about this, our children can lie when they’ve done something wrong and that can shade the trust that we have established between them. But, a reason why they’re not telling the truth could be because they may not trust us or they fear getting into trouble.

How to Build Trust with Your Kid

As we covered earlier, the foundations of trust with our kids have been formed since they were born. To keep and maintain it requires practice and patience with us at the helm of the trust bus. Here’s some suggestions:

  • Be an active listenerThis is easier said than done, but it is necessary. Recognize what your child is saying and read in-between the lines. Don’t listen to respond or use judgemental statements. Use techniques of mirroring (repetition of key words they said), labeling (identifying feelings), and dynamic silence (allowing room for them to think/speak) to ensure that your child feels heard and that their feelings matter. This can make them feel more at ease and more likely to open up about their problems/issues later on.
  • Be present and responsive – We have some practice with this when our kids are little, but we can gradually lose being present as they get older. Aside from knowing when your child may be hungry, tired, or overwhelmed, being responsive shows them that you are available physically and emotionally. Like a superhero, if they request for help, you’re there to the best of your ability and validating their emotions even if it makes no sense at the moment. Also, being present for moments of play builds trust, showing them that we value and enjoy their company.
  • Be predictable As we’ve mentioned in previous posts, young children need schedules and routines to feel safe and secure. Consistency itself allows the brain to relax, reducing conflict, and instilling a feeling of fairness during unfavorable situations. That means follow-through is a must. Make commitments to your child that are within reason and that you can complete. If you establish boundaries, uphold them. If you warn a consequence, hold firm to it. If a promise can no longer be met, let your child know in advance and explain why. By keeping your word, not only do you build trust, but you model what reliability and integrity looks like.
  • Be honest If we don’t want our kids to lie, we need to practice what we preach. Try to reduce the amount of little white lies with your kid. Being forthright permits trust, simple as that. If your child asks if getting a vaccine shot will hurt, don’t tell them no (because it might). Let them know the truth in the most age-appropriate way possible. If you don’t know an answer, be frank about it. Figuring it out together (from asking Alexa or experimenting through trial/error) can deepen a parent-child bond.
  • Be a role model Kids look to their parents as a form of guidance on how to be or act. So, if you hold them accountable for their actions or lay out a set of expectations but don’t adhere to them yourself, it sends a mixed message which will likely be challenged as they get older.
  • Own itYes, we’re parents, but we are also humans. Owning your mistakes and shortcomings and expressing your feelings and struggles can help your child understand that we’re not perfect, nor is there a demand to be. Additionally, apologizing and explaining your missteps to your kid allows them to do the same.

How Do We Trust Our Kids

Trust is a two-way street. If you catch your child in a lie, it’s easy to jump down their throat and make them feel worse. Unfortunately, this reaction doesn’t make them want to stop the unwanted behavior, but instead try harder not to get caught.

If they do lie to your face, explain how important it is to tell the truth and ensure that you will not get angry if they do so (and uphold this promise no matter what it is). Explain that trust is when you ask a question and they tell you what happened. If this is a hard concept for them, it’s okay to tell them what you witnessed and get them to tell you their side of it. When they do tell you the truth, make it clear that you appreciate their candor. The idea is to develop faith that if your child says something to you, you will not lose your temper.

This is not to say that a poor decision goes without reprimand, but that reprimand should not break the safe, secure environment you’ve built. Keeping your cool encourages your child to be a person of integrity, and creates a trusting relationship with you where they can speak honestly without anger, fear, or criticism.

Building a strong trust foundation with your child requires constant work, but it’s worth it in the end. By establishing a safe and caring atmosphere for your kid, they feel like they can come to you with anything. Openly trusting them to go forth and be decent human beings allows them to be confident and feel supported in anything they do.

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