How can we have a relationship with our children and how far do we go with trusting them vs. making sure we are aware of what’s going on in their lives? Is it ok to “be their friend” or do I always have to “be the mom”?
You can listen to the podcast "Building Trust".
These are some of the questions we want to talk about today. But first, let’s review the basics of what we have covered so far by doing a little quiz!
Here are some scenarios and questions for us to discuss.
1. You are at home and have instructed your child to pick up their toys. They do not do it. What do you do?
a. Repeat the instructions.
b. Start picking them up yourself.
c. Give them a consequence for disobedience and try again.
d. Leave the toys on the floor for now and allow them to decide when to pick them up.
e. Physically make them pick up each toy.
2. Your child has been told they cannot have something they have asked for and begins to fuss? What should you do?
a. Tell them they can have the item later.
b. Cover their mouth until they are finished fussing.
c. Repeat that they cannot have it louder so they can hear you above their fussing.
d. Give them a few chances to stop fussing, then cover their mouth.
e. Give them the item so they will stop fussing.
3. You are at church with your family and your child turns away from someone who tries to engage them in conversation. What should your response be?
a. Tell them your child is shy and allow them to hide behind you.
b. Make your child say “hello” and shake their hand right then. Don’t give in to this.
c. Tell them your child has been taught not to talk to strangers.
d. Tell them you are working on that, then privately instruct your child.
e. Give them a spanking.
4. Your husband and you have just put your children to bed after making sure all their needs are met, and you have instructed them to stay in bed. Your three year old comes in and says they need a drink. What should you do?
a. Tell them to go back to bed.
b. Get them a drink of water.
c. Let them get a drink themselves.
d. Tell them you already explained not to get up, so they will get a consequence for disobeying.
e. Have them join you and your husband for a while until they are ready to sleep.
5. What are the three things every child should know?
ANSWERS: 1. c, 2. b, 3. d, 4. d,
5. They are loved, You know what is best for them, You will use your authority to make sure what is best for them is done.
ON TO THE LESSON
It is really important to have a good grasp of the concept that you are in charge before any progress toward good behavior can be accomplished with your children. But, just because you are in charge doesn’t mean every moment is about you commanding and them obeying. Building a relationship with them is another key element to raising well-behaved and happy children.
There are several things that add to the building blocks of a good relationship with your children. The first are the three basics we have already discussed. After that comes trust. There are several categories of trust we want to cover today as we talk about nurturing our relationships.
If you think about it, you are actually the center of your child’s world until they are graduating from high school. They live in the town you live in because you decided that. They go to school or are home schooled because of your decisions. They are allowed to come and go as you say and eat, drink and wear what you allow them to. If you go to church, they go with you. (or should!) If you have a family vacation, that is where they will go.
Their entire lives pivot on you and your decisions. Think about how that feels to a person. What if your whole life depended on someone who you couldn’t trust generally or trust to support you? What feelings and emotions would come up in your mind and your heart?
Your Children Must Trust You to “Have Their Back”
With this in mind, understand your child must know they can come to you with problems that come up as they grow and mature, especially in their relationships with others including teachers, family members and friends.
You have been telling them to stand up for what is right (as discussed in “Protecting Without Over Protecting”) and to be the influencer in their relationships with friends. So, what if they are having trouble with a particular friend? How can you help them through it? Will they come to you with their concerns?
There is no way to guarantee your child will feel confident to come to you with every problem that comes up. But, there is a way to encourage them to talk with you about their concerns.
First, try to ask them just about every day, “What was the best part of your day?” Give them a chance to open up about things that made them happy and what was exciting to them. Share things from your day too! This is a great opener to have a conversation.
Make sure you never belittle or chuckle at their problems. To them, these are important issues and if you act as though they aren't important or they are silly to be concerned, they will not trust you enough to come to you with their real feelings.
Then, if they mention a friend, ask more about that friend. Follow up often by asking them on other days how things are going with that relationship. It is much more likely they will tell you when a problem arises if they are already talking to you about the friendship from the start.
If they do come to your with a problem, give them suggestions that will squelch drama and encourage peace. Tell them to be always looking for ways to uplift others and allow them to ask you questions about specific circumstances. The best thing to do is, listen and then tell them to be humble and patient with friends.
But, if there is an issue with someone treating them badly, do not let that go. Give them suggestions about how best to handle the situation. In some circumstances, you may need to get involved, but make that a last resort. Make sure the child knows you are there and will get involved if necessary.
MY son, Ben, had a friend, Drew, who lived across the street. They played every so often, mostly outside, and we had taken Drew with us to swimming at the YMCA. He had also played with my other children outside since they were all close in age. Then, one day, when Drew and Ben were about 8 years old, he was playing basketball outside with the visitor of another neighbor. Ben went over to see if he could be a part of the game. Drew said no, he didn’t want Ben to play with them.
This, of course, hurt Ben’s feelings badly. When I was made aware of what had gone on, I went outside and asked Drew what was going on and why he had decided not to include Ben in his game. I was not harsh, but just inquiring to see if there had been a problem. He didn’t have an answer, so I let him know that he has the opportunity to have a good friend who lives right across the street. Ben wanted to be his friend, but he would need to show friendship back if he wants the friendship to last. I also let him know he had hurt Ben’s feelings and hoped they could remedy the situation together.
Drew lived with his grandmother and she saw me talking to him. Within a very short time, his grandmother told Drew he would not be playing with our children anymore. Of course, when I found this out, I gave her a call and asked about it. She said she did not want me instructing her grandson, and we should leave children alone to fend for themselves.
I told the grandmother that it was my thought that as children are growing up, we, as adults, need to interfere when we find one of them has treated another badly. This is how bullying happens and it was important for all of us to instruct young people to treat each other with respect. When we see something that is inappropriate happening like this, we should intervene – and I let her know I would appreciate it if she ever sees my children treating others badly, to let me know and to feel free to make them aware this was unacceptable.
Ben heard all of this and let me know he really appreciated that I “had his back”. He played with his brothers and sisters instead and I knew he had the belief he could trust me to support him when he was treated badly.
Later, Drew also was instructed not to touch one of my daughters who he kept bothering. Even after she had asked him to keep his hands off, he kept putting his arm around her. When she told me this, I called the grandmother and as gently and politely as I could, let her know Drew was not respecting the boundaries my daughter had set for him. She got angry and hung up.
Needless to say, my daughter knew I would support her --- and Drew ended up with multiple problems later in his life.
The Tasmanian Devil
Another incident happened with Ben that I thought I would share. Ben is a very unique individual. He was diagnosed with Asperger’s Syndrome (a mild form of autism) , ADHD and is also visually impaired. Though he has some disabilities, he has become successful in his life and has overcome much.
When he was just little, before he started kindergarten, I knew he would likely encounter bullies. He had thick glasses and was extremely intelligent, and very talkative. He would likely find times when he would be left out or treated poorly. I wanted to empower him and let him know he didn’t have to take mistreatment.
Ben went to school as a kindergartner and continued through 4th grade. After that, he was homeschooled until high school when he took some supplemental classes at a public school. At that time, I reminded him not to allow himself to be bullied. He can stand up for himself.
I got a call from the principal at the public school about an incident that happened. Ben had been in the hallway and some boys that had been teasing him daily approached and knocked his books out of his hands. Ben, remembering what I had said, let into them like a Tasmanian devil.
The boys were completely taken aback by his response and didn’t try to engage him any further. Ben and the boys were all sent to the principal’s office. The principal told me that the boys would be punished for their behavior, and that he had asked Ben about the incident also.
Ben told him he would not allow himself to be physically bullied and if anyone touches him, he will let them have it. The principle understood and let him go. When this was related to my husband and me, we congratulated Ben for standing up for himself!
Don’t be afraid to stand up for your children when they need you to intervene, and empower them to take care of themselves if needed. Let them know “you have their back”. Teach them to treat everyone with dignity and respect, and to expect the same from others. To never look for a fight and try to make peace with all people, but not to allow others to mistreat them either.
On the other hand, I also witnessed an incident where one of my sons was not treating another boy respectfully. I picked up the phone (when we had a land line) not realizing my son was talking to his friend. He clearly didn’t know I was listening, and I heard my son talking to this boy in a disrespectful manner. Not that he was saying bad words, but he was being condescending.
I interrupted the conversation and with my son and this boy on the phone, I apologized for my son’s behavior. I also told the boy he need not ever allow anyone to talk to him like that. My son was mortified. That was completely ok with me. I wanted him to be.
I then had a frank and somewhat aggressive conversation with my son about his behavior. I reminded him that this kind of condescending attitude would not be tolerated and he would privately apologize to his friend. He did, and I would guess he never did such a thing again!
Your Children Must Trust Your Word
When you say something is going to happen, or is not going to happen, your children should trust this to be the case. If you tell them there will be a consequence to a certain behavior, they should have no question in their mind that this will actually happen. Follow through on consequences not only produces more obedient children, it also creates trust between a parent and a child.
They see that when you say something, it always comes about. This can also help as they get older and you warn them about consequences for other decisions they may make in their lives. Your warning and letting them know they are getting into dangerous territory will mean much more if other warnings you have laid out before have always come true.
Set up a foundation of trust in your relationship by following through not only on consequences, but also rewards. Do not make promises you cannot keep. If you think you are going to an event coming up, say “We plan to go.” It is better not to make a promise because something may come up that makes your follow through impossible. Do everything you can to keep your word.
Your Children Must Trust You to Tell Them the Truth
It is my opinion that many times, parents use their children’s built in innocence for their own entertainment. This is very sad to me and it is damaging to the relationships with their children.
For example, there was a video that went viral recently about parents telling their children they would not receive any gifts at Christmas because they had given them all away, all the while knowing this wasn’t true. The parents enjoyed seeing their children all upset and crying. Same thing happened with Halloween candy. Parents were telling their children while they were asleep, someone had come and eaten all their candy. As the children were agonizing over this, the parents enjoyed taunting them.
This is such a hurtful and mean thing to do. Not only were the parents using the innocence of the child for their own pleasure, but were actually enjoying seeing their child in pain just for their entertainment. And, once the child finds out this was all a lie, how will that child trust the parent again?
There are many ways parents can teach a child either to trust them or not to trust them. The first is to ALWAYS tell them the truth. There may be times when you don’t tell them something at all, but if you do tell them, they should always hear truth.
I went to a social gathering a few years ago. A friend of mine expressed how concerned she was because her daughter had come to her in tears. She was upset because all the children at school kept telling her Santa Claus was not real and she insisted to them that her mother would not lie to her. She was very upset and my friend felt bad because she had to tell her daughter the truth. She didn’t know if she had done the right thing!
Not only that, the other friends at the table berated her for telling her daughter that Santa was not real! I was the only one who said she did the right thing, though I was drowned out by the uproar of people around her telling her she shouldn’t have done that.
Later I called her and told her the best thing she could have done is not to have told her Santa was real in the beginning, but that when her daughter came to her with a sincere question, she absolutely should have told her the truth. Her daughter needs to know she can trust her.
It was the belief of my husband and I that we should never lie to our children. We had fun with Santa and the tooth fairy by referencing them in a silly way, but we made sure they understood this was just play. We might put “From Santa” on some of their gifts sometimes and joke about it. We had a tooth fairy pillow that they would use to collect their rewards for losing a tooth… but they always knew the tooth fairy looked exactly like Mom!
It’s fine to have fun and enjoy fantasy and play. But it is not ok to lie to our children. Yet, the emotion involved in some of these traditions is astounding.
I remember when I was pregnant with my first baby, there was a lady who had taken a great interest in my condition. She was a commissioned officer’s wife and I was in Germany with my non-commissioned officer husband. She had invested a lot of money in throwing me a surprise baby shower and had invited us over to share the Christmas holiday with their family. My son was about 3 months old by the time that holiday came around.
When the subject of Santa came up, I casually said we would not tell our son he was real, but would just have fun with the idea of Santa and that Christ would be the center of the holiday for us. She being a devout Catholic, I thought, would certainly understand that. NO. She broke down in tears and was completely emotional over the idea that my poor son would not have the experience of believing in Santa Claus. I was shocked at her reaction, but it taught me how sacred this tradition of lying to children is to some people.
How can our children trust us to tell them about the truth of spiritual things and about things in their lives we want them to know as they mature, if they know we will lie to them about these things?
Make it a goal to say when your children are grown that you have never lied to them. Be able to look them in the eye and say that. If you do, this part of your relationship will be a solid one. If they want to know truth, they will come to you. And isn’t that where you want them to go?
Don’t Excuse Lying
If you lie to other people, this is another way to undermine the trust your child has in you. Have you ever not wanted to answer the phone or the door, so you tell your child to lie to the person wanting your attention by saying you are not home? Have you ever excused yourself from an event by lying and told your children you just didn’t want to go but didn’t want to hurt the other person’s feelings?
These are all ways of teaching your children that telling the truth is not important if you get what you want in the end. Sometimes, it is best not to say why if doing so would cause hurt. That is true. But, lying is not the answer. It is better not to answer, or not to give a reason than to lie. Teach your children to tell the truth by your example.
Trust Isn’t Always a Two Way Street
Did you make some bad decisions when you were young? Can you honestly say that when you were growing up, it was very tempting to sneak around behind your parents back to do something they would not allow? Did you ever lie to your parents?
Most likely, you could say yes to all of the above. The truth is, it is human nature. The desire to do what we want when we want is a built in mechanism that has to be overcome by self-discipline and maturity. When a young person is still working on their maturity, they will find it extremely tempting to use the trust you have built to do something you have told them not to do.
Teach your children about this. Let them know, you, as a parent, understand this. Because you do understand that even YOU have weaknesses in this area sometimes, that you cannot always trust only in their word. That it is a parent’s responsibility to keep them safe and to make sure they are on the right path. To do that, parents need all the information they can gather. This means sometimes, you will be verifying what they are doing, where they are going and with whom they are spending their time.
It is not because you think badly of them. It is because you know they are a normal human being. And, as a normal human being, they will make mistakes. You have to make sure those mistakes are not taking them down a path of destruction. Because of your love and concern for them, you will check up on what they are doing, know where they are going and with whom they are spending their time.
As they prove to you over and over again that they can be trusted, you will less and less frequently check up on them. But, you will still keep an eye on things until they are grown and on their own. This is what being a trustworthy parent means.
So, if your child says,” But you don’t trust me!” You can say, “That’s right.”
You are the mom. You are not their trusting friend.
Other Building Blocks
Other ways to build a relationship is by finding things with which you can both share an interest. Whether it be a hobby, certain events or movies, or a physical activity or game, find ways to engage your children. One easy way is to take them out to a meal once in a while. Find time for just you and one child to go out together and spend time.
Find ways to minister together. Plan an event for your church or school group. Make them an important part in the process.
Another way is to find funny things and share them. My son often sends me silly memes or short video clips he find amusing and I send him something silly back. Just find ways to laugh. This builds a relationship faster than just about anything!
Trust is the cornerstone of the relationship between you and your children. Build it on a strong foundation and you will find the joy that can come from a future lifelong bond!