Emotional safety might not reel of the tongue when we’re asked what’s most important to us, yet relationship can’t be built without it. We learn from very early in life whether people can be trusted through the behavior of our parents. The trust of our children is precious, yet it can be easily damaged. Watch out for the following traps:
There’s no such thing as a white lie! Truth is truth and our children are watching! If we lie to get out of events or appointments, lie about the biscuits running out, when it’s just that we don’t want them to have another or lie to others to cover up for our children, we can’t be totally surprised if they don’t trust us – or lie themselves.
By the same token, keeping our word is a trust indicator, even if it’s something very small. “I’ll get you a new one,” “We’ll do that next week.” Keeping our word to, for and in front of our children will enable them to trust us.
Not standing up for them in front of others can break trust. Forcing them to greet other adults with a hug or kiss undermines their trust in us.
Sharing stories about them for amusement when we haven’t had their permission (either in person or on social media) makes them feel fearful and isolated,
So does openly sharing our disappointments about them “She never listens.”
Disciplining them in front of others when it’s not necessary also causes them to distrust us.
Their issues might seem small to us, but to them they’re very big. One of our children asked me this morning what the upcoming flue vaccination was going to feel like. If I mislead him by playing it down he will question my honesty after he’s experienced it. If we’re reliable our children will let us stand with them through their challenges. By the same token, exaggeration is equally confusing for them. Words like ‘you always, you never, everyone or nobody’ brings shame on them and distances them from us.
Comparing them negatively to their siblings or your own experience of being their age can cause resentment. Being accepted and understood is one of their greatest needs. Every child’s experience is unique, when they are offset against a better example they will feel misunderstood.
The author, Corrie Ten Boom was once travelling in a train with her father who was a watchmaker. Two suitcases, heavy with metal watch parts, sat at their feet. On this journey Corrie asked her dad a difficult question about sex. He didn’t feel she was ready to be exposed to the answer, so, arriving at the station, he asked her to carry the bags. She could barely lift them off the ground and soon gave up. Her father explained some information was also heavy and that he would carry that information until she was ready to carry it herself. I love this story, it works for so many different scenarios. Letting our children know that we need to keep information from them is so much better than making something up (“You arrived by stork!”) or overexposing them (Uncle David is having an affair”)
These may only be little incidents. But their lives are the sum of little incidents and it’s during these moments they’ll subconsciously decide whether we are trustworthy. Their experience of trust will affect their future relationships. Also, when the stakes get higher and they really need someone to rely on, they’ll have worked out whether we’re up for the task.