Embracing Openness, Fostering Trust (Episode 324)
How much trust do you have in your children? Especially as they get a bit older and are testing their independence, it can be a scary thing to "let them loose." Well, we believe you can foster trust and respect from a young age without throwing them to the wolves. The more you're willing to walk with them and model what you're looking for, the higher the likelihood they will model it.
Giving Grace For Growth
Now let me share a caveat here. I trust my children to be open and honest with me. And, you can trust your child to do the right thing, and yet not trust their maturity and impulse control.
Trust is earned little by little, by testing it out. We give the yellow/green/yellow/red approach. There are times when it helps to open the door and let your child try, even if they may fail, to gain the tools and learn their own boundaries and weaknesses.
For example, online access. We haven't put restrictions on our children's access to computers and phones. That being said, their first steps into the online world were looking over our shoulders and us explaining things to them. The next step was the basics - helping them learn things like typing online and doing Khan Academy. Then, it was a "yellow light" slow move ahead of searching on YouTube, looking things up, and even going through InstaReels together.
As we moved forward with caution, there were many discussions. When it seemed a child was a little too eager to hide a screen or was spending too much time on tech, it was an opportunity for us to dig deeper with them and straight up ask them about it. Having an open environment of sharing in our home laid a foundation where it was safe to admit when they messed up. We all do. I know how easy it is to get lost on bunny trails, especially online.
So we look to safeguard as we build and create trust - our kids hop on tech in our main living area - we can walk by and see their screens at any time. This helps them stay on track, and we're present to navigate anything with them. The more they show their openness to share with us and ask us questions, the more we empower them to learn on their own. The more they try to hide and barrel through, we can pull back and re-evaluate how necessary this tool is at the moment.
We'll dig back into this below.
1. Create a Safe Space
The first step is fostering a safe space at home. I'm all about engaging the senses and creating a peaceful environment in our home. In our episode where we discussed the Danish Way Of Parenting, we explained the concept of "hygge".
Beyond the setting, however, it's about how we approach conversations with our children. If we throw out this idea of "kids" vs. "adults" and consider we're all human beings at different levels of growth and discovery, it allows us to better empathize where they may be.
How open are you with someone who says, "It's my way or the highway?" How eager are you to share when you know your input will simply be disregarded? How would you feel if your personal journal where you shared your darkest emotions was rifled through without your knowledge? How would you feel to be constantly scrutinized and tested, where it seems everyone is waiting for when you'll fail again?
Here are some tips for creating a safe space for open communication:
- Listen without judgment. When your child comes to you with a problem, listen to them with an open mind and heart. Yes, this can be super hard, especially if what they share really makes you want to react strongly. If you react, you may have immediately slammed the door on their desire to share again. Avoid interrupting, criticizing, or offering unsolicited advice. Instead, focus on understanding their perspective and offering support. The first step is always, always, to meet them where they are. The more they feel heard, the more likely they are to hear you.
- Be honest with your children. Children are more likely to trust their parents if they're honest with them, even when it's difficult. This doesn't mean you have to share every detail of your life, but it does mean being honest about your own mistakes and feelings. We don't have to divulge our marital or financial woes to our children - they are not our therapists or required to carry the weight of our worries. That being said, don't ever think they don't recognize the tension. We shared on the podcast how the Gottman Institute could tell happy marriages by measuring the stress levels in their children's urine - that is all. Our kids pick up on our tensions at home. So being open that there are tensions is okay. Sharing the nitty gritty that isn't their burden to carry is not.
- Respect your child's privacy. Children have a right to privacy, just like adults do. Respect their privacy by knocking before entering their room and by asking permission before reading their messages or looking at their belongings. I share in the podcast how I didn't agree with just taking children's toys without talking with them first. I didn't want to build distrust where they didn't know if a toy would disappear. Every action has a consequence. When there is a reason to question your child's privacy, that's time for a real conversation with them, not sneaking around to "bust" them. As long as they are dependent on you and rely on you for what they are using (ie a phone and a phone plan), they earn the privilege of access. (Yes, it gets dicey with split homes - you can only lay the boundaries around your own house - yet using the rest of these principles can help with trust and respect).
- Show your child that you trust them. One of the best ways to build trust is to emphasize when you do. Maybe it's just "I love that I can trust you to give me honest feedback." Give them age-appropriate responsibilities and allow them to make their own decisions. If they make a mistake, that's your "yellow light" reminder to slow down - maybe you walk with them through things again - you have to first show them the tools before they can learn how to use them. Build up trust a little at a time as you see their competency (and confidence) grow. On the podcast I share about Ellie's organizing abilities...then and now.
2. Follow Through On Your Promises
When you make a promise to your child, keep it. If you want your children to be reliable and trustworthy, are you practicing what you preach? If you have to break a promise, be honest with them and explain the reasoning why.
Here are some tips for following through on your promises:
- Be realistic about your commitments. Don't make promises that you can't keep. This holds true for laying out a bunch of good things you can't follow through on, and it also holds true for empty threats you can't/won't act on.
- Write down your commitments. This will help you keep track of what you've promised and when you need to do it. Obviously, this isn't the case for everything. However, I know in our fast-paced lifestyle, if it's super important, it goes on our calendar so I don't forget.
- Set reminders. If you have a hard time remembering your commitments, set reminders on your phone or calendar. I definitely swear by this and have this as my one main alert on my phone. I "dummy-proof" myself with alerts in advance so I don't run out of time.
- If you have to break a promise, be honest with your child. Explain to them why you can't keep your promise and apologize. It happens. We have no problem with disappointment - it's a part of life. And sometimes we're all disappointed, like planning a big picnic day and then realizing it's going to storm. When you need to break a promise to them, don't just drop it - how can you rebuild their trust in your follow-through? Oftentimes when we have to re-evaluate, we'll go ahead and put a date on the calendar for when we can make it happen.
3. Be A Role Model
Children learn by watching the adults in their lives. If you want your child to be trustworthy, you need to be trustworthy yourself. This means being honest, keeping your promises, and respecting others. If you're sneaking around behind someone's back, don't be surprised when your child thinks it's okay for them to do the same (and you may be that someone).
We shared on the podcast about a research experiment our daughter Ellie was in when she was three. It was to record how many words were spoken each day (yes, there were a LOT). During that time, while, technically it was just recording words per minute from child and parent and not the actual conversations, it made us hyper-aware of how we might speak if we were truly being listened to.
Do you live in such a way you can stand with integrity in your actions? I'm not pushing for perfection here. Are you willing to admit your mistakes? If you were accountable for ALL your actions - what you say and what you do - are you willing to accept the consequences?
Here are some tips for being a role model for your child:
- Be honest with your child. Even if it's difficult, be honest with your child about your own mistakes and feelings. We share when we're frustrated, fearful, or unsure. Allowing for some vulnerability with our kids that we don't have life all figured out gives them permission to try, knowing those feelings are still valid yet don't prevent us from moving forward.
- Keep your promises. If you make a promise to your child, keep it. As I said - if you want a reliable and trustworthy child, be a reliable and trustworthy parent.
- Respect others. Model respectful behavior for your child by treating others with kindness and consideration. I believe trust and respect go hand in hand. If you dish out disrespect you give your kids permission to do the same. I've seen parents barrel all over their children, not listening to them, talking behind their backs and rifling through their things, and then get mad when their children do the same exact thing back to them.
- Admit your mistakes. Everyone makes mistakes. When you make a mistake, admit it to your child and apologize. This shows them that it's okay to make mistakes and that it's important to learn from them.
If you want a strong foundation of trust in your home, start together and build it together. Not by demands. Model what you want to see. Create a loving and supportive environment that allows the space for your family to flex all their emotions and their independence.
A Few More Things...
Here are some additional tips for fostering trust in your family:
- Spend time together. One of the best ways to build trust is to spend time together as a family. This could involve eating meals together, playing games, or simply talking and laughing. Doing things side-by-side - driving in the car, going on a walk, working on a project, or doing chores together - these all create a less intimidating atmosphere for being vulnerable and honest.
- Show your child that you love them. Tell your child that you love them often and show them through your actions. Give them hugs and kisses, and spend time doing things they enjoy. Write them a note. Learn their "currency" - what is really valuable to them.
- Be a good listener. When your child is talking to you, give them your full attention. Remember, "listen contains the same letters as silent". Silence your mind of any rebuttals and first just listen and meet them where they are. Listen to what they have to say and ask clarifying questions to dig deeper.
- Be respectful. Treat your child with respect, even when they're making mistakes. This means avoiding name-calling, insults, and other hurtful language.
- Be forgiving. Everyone makes mistakes. When your child makes a mistake, forgive them and move on.
Building trust takes time and effort, but it's worth it. When children trust their parents, they feel safe and loved. This allows them to thrive and reach their full potential.
So our challenge this week is to create that safe and open space in your home that fosters these real conversations.
If you want to build trust, take it a step at a time WITH your child. It can be a downward spiral if trust has been broken and it's one thing after another going downhill. If the focus is so much on what isn't going right, it seems to perpetuate even more of that in your life.
Try focusing on the other side. Maybe you do a trust-building exercise, like making a human knot, or doing trust falls. Maybe you ask for help in an area your child has already shown some success in, and you start focusing on your gratitude and trust in them that they will get things done.
It's not throwing them to the wolves. It's not hovering and micromanaging. It is a dance back and forth, and trying again; each of you stretching a little bit in your willingness to try to work together.
And it's a dance that's worth showing up to every single day.
These are beautiful children we are raising. They are the future leaders and the ones that are going to impact our world moving forward. And we want them to trust themselves enough to be able to do it in a way where the uniqueness in each of us strengthens all of us.