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4 Easy Steps for Building Trust with your Child

Updated: Apr 7, 2021

man smiling while holding and looking down at young son

"Love cannot exist without trust"

Trust is a building block of any relationship. It is equally important in parent/child relationships, as it is in platonic, intimate, professional and/or familial relationships. Building trust with young people is an ongoing endeavor that can strenghten or weaken depending on our commitment & investment to it. Teaching young people trust as a foundation of healthy love now, saves them from many risks associated with unhealthy relationships later.

Know that honesty is not synonymous with trust, but is necessary for building genuine trust. Our words and our promises are valuable. Aligning our behaviors and actions with our word is an easy way to model healthy relationships with trust. Repairing ruptures that arise in relationships is also important in building trust. It shows you care, acknowledge your mistakes, feel remorseful, are committed to growing, and supporting the needs of your child. Learning about what trust means to you, your partner(s) and children is powerfully transformative in the lives of all involved.

1. Strenghten Consistency


Consistency gives children stability to thrive in. Consistency in communication, honesty, trust, empathy, structure and parenting style. It supports their resilience, confidence, and strengthens their openness to try new things. It creates safety to move from survival to exploration which supports your child's optimal development and neurological connections.

  • Do what you say you will do. Make realistic promises you can keep. Its better to be a realistic parent/teacher that kids can count on for their word than to let them down and burn yourself out trying to be a superhuman!

  • Set boundaries and follow through with consequences. Let them know you won't let them harm themselves or others. Believe it or not, they actually respect you more when you consistently set limits and follow through with discipline!

2. Model Trust Across Relationships


Teens learn by observing their parents, family, peers and environment. They may respect what you say to them, but your children are most influenced by how you behave; particularly what you do and don’t do. Modeling trusting, satisfying relationships of different kinds supports young people's intimacy, strength of relationships, and ability to discern healthy relationships from unhealthy ones. Teach your children that trust is built through different types of intimacy, not just familial or romantic intimacy. Modeling trust supports their resistance to negative peer pressure, ability to make healthier choices & seek healthier interactions with others.

  • Ask yourself often whether you want your child to display and experience the behaviors you show. Your personal growth and standards speak powerfully in shaping teens life choices, and provide a foundation for their development, and secure exploration.

3. Model Empathy


Empathy is a key component of emotional intelligence. Empathy is correlated with individuals’ ability problem-solve and expand their ability to critically think about perspectives different from their own.

  • One foundation of empathy is active listening! Make eye contact, put away distractions, repeat back your understanding of the thoughts, feelings and ideas they shared with you. You can ask if they want help solving the problem but don't push with solutions. Sometimes kids just need to see you understand them and trust they can figure out the problem.

  • Show them what respect for others looks like. Strengthen relationships with diverse folks, and communities, so they know how to engage respectfully with those with difference live styles and values from your own.

  • Consistently build upon your child's understanding of privilege, and how to use their privilege(s) to combat discrimination in our community

  • Teach them how to stand up to protect others from hate and abuse. Children are learning how to navigate the world through the lens they share with you.

4. Be Honest


Honesty with your children teaches them the strength and power of genuine expression to connect with others, build relationships, non-violently problem solve, be better equipped for constructive criticism, build self-esteem, confidence, and ability to express themselves sincerely with others. Avoid telling "white lies" or normalizing dishonesty as a means of building trust in relationships. Honesty is truly the best policy in parenting, and teaching your children how to sustain fulfilling relationships with others.

  • Apologize when you make a mistake

  • Admit when you don't know how to do something or when you are

  • Tell them stories about your life and the lessons you learned from your mistakes. Let them see how you formed the standards for your life through the ways you problem solved your past mistakes.

Examples of Trust in Action

Example: You notice your child picks out clothes to wear to school, but changes into different clothes last minute. After changing clothes, you notice your child seems anxious, maybe even sad.

  • Share with your child that you notice after changing their clothes, their mood changed. Avoid assuming what they feel is a way to model your trust in them to share how they feel with you. By being honest, you show your child you are attentive to their changing emotions/needs and are there to support them.

  • Asking for clarity, or if something else is bothering them, shows empathy for their experience and opens the opportunity to strengthen parent-child intimacy. This also gives them the opportunity to process how they feel themselves before responding to you.

  • Teach your child its okay to try different things, like clothes, to learn more about yourself, but that honoring how they feel in while expressing themselves, is what is important. Trying different clothes, styles, and forms of expression helps you learn about yourself, like your gender expression, while building self-esteem, and self-autonomy. Take this opportunity to discuss the butterfly affect of change starts with one person. One child radically loving who they are, and what they represent inspires and encourages others to do the same.

Example: Your child shares with you that they are being teased for having an accent different than their peers.

  • Build trust by actively listening to your child.

  • Consistently affirm there is nothing wrong with your child, and discuss celebrating their differences.

  • Show your child empathy, and explain their worth is not dependent on the opinions of others, but that it's okay to feel hurt by the impact of other's behaviors.

  • Thank your child for their honesty in sharing their experience, and support their needs, by asking them how they'd like to be supported.

  • Empowering your child in this way will help their skill of self-regulation, and empower their ability to address their changing needs through development.

  • Connect their experience to larger social issues that help frame their individual experience as the symptom of greater issues of oppression.

  • Use empathy to frame how everyone has an accent, and that all accents are worthy of respect.

  • Strengthen trust by following up with your child to ensure their safety, and healing from this experience. You can even use this moment to model vulnerability and share experiences you have had that helped you love and celebrate your differences.

Support Your Journey

Check out these books, articles, and videos to support your commitment to build trust with your children!

  1. ‘Peaceful Parent, Happy Kids: How to Stop Yelling and Start Connecting’ by Laura Markham

  2. ‘Daring Greatly: How the Courage to Be Vulnerable Transforms the Way We Live, Love, Parent and Lead’ by Brene Brown

  3. ‘Permission to Feel: Unlocking the Power of Emotions to Help Our Kids, Ourselves and Our Society Thrive’ by Marc Brackett

  4. ‘Helping Your Anxious Child: A Step-by-Step Guide for Parents’ by Ronald M. Rapee, Ann Wignall, Susan Spence, Vanessa Cobham, Heidi Lyneham

  5. ‘How to Raise Successful People: Simple Lessons for Radical Results’ by Esther Wojcicki

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