Trust, Is It Just Another Four Letter Word? One of the strongest links you can have with your child is trust. In fact trust is a precious thing held close to any heart in any relationship and will help you sail the rough waters of the adolescent years with your child.
From very young I speak to my kids about trust but how do you put such a tangible subject into a format that a child can begin to understand. Often we use words with kids and we forget that they are learning language so how are they to know the meaning of trust? Then we go off at them saying things like “Mummy trusted you, now I’m sad”. Both confusing the child and bordering on emotional blackmail. We’ve all been guilty of it some time or another.
I struggled with how to teach my child what trust meant then I came up with two methods that I’ve found work because they are visual and can be used on any child. I’ve used them to teach a foster child what trust is so that I can begin to build it into their trust shattered lives.
(Shhhh, yes I know it has five letters!)
Rope Method: Take a length of rope, stringor wool and give one end to your child and you hold an end. Call the rope ‘Trusty’. Explain that when you ask your child to go read a book, or put a toy away (age appropriate requests) you are trusting them and the trust bond is strong between you. The rope is happy! When you find the child has done something different to what you asked it breaks, at this point use scissors and cut the rope leaving the child holding one end. State that it makes it hard to believe and trust the child if the ‘trust’ rope is broken. Then move on to explain that the rope can be fixed and while tie-ing a knot in it explain that when the child goes and does what you have asked them to do it mends the ‘Trusty’ rope and everyone is happy again. (once you’ve tied the knot give your child a big giggly hug to show how nice it is to have a mended ‘Trusty rope’.
Emotional Blackmail: This isn’t emotional blackmail because it’s a teaching session in a non-confrontational setting. You can use the word ‘Trusty’ rope as a reference and I don’t suggest that every time your child doesn’t follow through with a request you hit on them with the ‘You make me sad’ comments. I grew up being told constantly how disappointing I was, how sad I made my mother when I didn’t comply. How embarrassing I was and so on and all of it was totally emotional blackmail that was even used after I was married. Anything to continue to control me. It’s not healthy and has a life long damaging effect on the child. Of course there are situations where it is totally appropriate to share your emotions with your child, I’m sure you will know if it’s the right time or if you are clinging to using it to find compliance in your child.
Circle of Trust: (similar to the rope method) I’ve seen this used by therapists and I adapted it for use as a parent. Draw a circle and let your child draw themselves in the circle, or use a photo, or just write the child’s name. Then draw one circle for each family member (immediate family: mum, dad, siblings) around their circle and draw a line or wiggly rope connecting them to each of the other circles. Draw it while also explaining it. You can make it colourful, artistic etc whatever suits you and your child at that time. Talk about trust and using a situation that has occurred recently between you and your child rub out a portion of the rope involving the child and the person involved with the issue. Then explain that it can be mended by being trustworthy next time. Fill in the rubbed out portion again and make it all better.(Note: for the older child draw knots in the line to show that each time it’s mended it leaves a memory or ‘scar’ that only heals over time).
For the younger child perhaps at that moment (be prepared with an item) to take an item that you hand them and go place it on your bed for you and then come back. If you really want to help a child learn the concept of trust use a chocolate or something that temps their ability at self control! (age appropriate). Then walk and check they did it and highly praise them to show the connection. Warning: Do not give them the item as a reward for being trustworthy! Perhaps later when it’s not immediately associated, you risk them thinking that each time they successfully obey they get to keep something at the end of it and that’s just one of your chocolates too many!
Trust Is An Ongoing Lesson: Trust is an ongoing lesson, find every opportunity to praise them in a trust situation so that they link it and every chance to describe a chance where they could have used ‘trust’ but didn’t. Eventually the idea will click. It helps to ask them questions about trusting you.
M: ”After school who picks you up to take you home?”
CH ”You do Mummy”
M ”How do you know I will pick you up?”
Child often shrugs and isn’t sure and at this stage you let them know it’s because they TRUST you. They have a feeling deep inside that tells them Mummy will come.
Teenagers and Trust When it involves my teenagers it’s a lesson that is constantly revisited. As soon as they slip up at a pre-teen level I share with them how trust will either make or break their teen years! I am not a parent who says NO throughout the teen years. At one time I even said yes to a Teen attending a ‘seedy’ party because I had total unblinded trust in the child and it was time they saw what we had been teaching them about. It paid off but only because of ‘Trust’.
I’ve taught them that when it comes time for curfews and boundaries to keep them safe, the level of trust we have in them will dictate the rules.
Two Way Street
Mums and Dads, can I be really open here. It’s so important that we all realise that parenting is a two way street. For too many years parents raised their kids with a do what I say not what I do approach. (my hand is raised high as a child raised like that). If you want your teenager to be trustworthy they have to trust in you too. There are times when it doesn’t work out for what ever reason sometimes legitimate sometimes not, so on an equal level learn to say SORRY to your teenager if you have let them down. Humbling yet awesome. I do not mean that your teen should be on equal ground as you, I’m specifically talking about issues such as trust!
*** *** ***
All this may seem long and drawn out but when you actually decide to go ahead with one of the two activities ahead it’s not so difficult. Children need visual teaching to help them understand what we adults are trying to pass on. Good luck with it and let me know how you went.
Disclaimer: I’m a Mum, not a university graduate, not a therapist, psychologist or trained counsellor. I’m not perfect and my path is very bumpy. I try my best, I’m willing to change course, re-evaluate, learn and admit my mistakes. What I share may or may not be suitable for your situation, the choice is yours.