Trusting our kids before they've "earned" our trust

Jun 24, 2023

Conventional approaches say that children must earn our trust. That they are not inherently deserving, but with good behavior, they prove they are are worthy. We give them little bits of trust, and as they prove themselves, we give them more. When they misbehave, they lose our trust.

The assumed question:

"Are  our kids worthy of our trust?"

The default answer:


What happens in a family community when trust is not dolled out as a reward or removed as a punishment? What happens when trust is an inherent quality of the relationship? When a parent says consistently and eagerly, "I trust you, my child. My trust in you is unwavering"?

Trust becomes a steady drumbeat of connection between parent and child. 

Parent trusts child.

Parent trusts themselves.

Child trusts parent.

Child trusts themselves.

Trust is always vulnerable. It is always challenging. And trusting children and teens is distinctly counter-cultural. But trust grows and grows; it heals; it blossoms and spreads into every aspect of the relationship. When we trust our children, we create capacity for them to trust us.

"I trust you. You can trust me."

The concept of trust can be triggering. It can feel too hard for parents. "How can I trust this child when they are [sneaking out at night/hitting their sibling/self-harming/running into the street/breaking the law]? They clearly cannot be trusted."

I get it. I really do.

The way to change this situation is actually to invest more trust, not less. To make investments of trust, everywhere you can. We trust them, so that they can learn to trust us and trust themselves.

Childism, the systemic bias against children, influences our societal beliefs about trust. We are conditioned to mistrust children, assuming they are incapable of making sound decisions or navigating challenges. By recognizing and challenging these ingrained beliefs, we can embrace a new paradigm—one that acknowledges children as individuals deserving of trust and respect, regardless of their struggles.

When we extend trust to struggling children, we open doors to authentic connection. Trust communicates our belief in their capacity to grow and learn, fostering a sense of safety and empowerment. It allows children to express themselves freely, knowing they will be heard and supported, leading to deeper understanding and stronger relationships.

Perhaps you start with simply wondering if you could take a small step toward trusting your relationship with your child. Maybe not, "I trust you," but rather, "Can I trust this?" Can I trust this process of making mistakes and learning together as an inherently, beautifully human journey? Can I trust myself to show up for whatever challenges come? 

In a world that often undermines the trust we place in our children, making the radical choice to trust them, especially during their struggles, can be transformative. Trust becomes a gift that nurtures connection, fosters growth, and paves the way for healing. By challenging societal norms, embracing unconditional trust, and cultivating empathy, we can create an environment where struggling children feel valued, empowered, and supported.

The Takeaway

Building trust with a struggling child is a counter-cultural step, one that childism systemically presses against. We are taught not to trust our children, which leads us to use trust as a tool for compliance, rather than a gift for nurturing connection. Can we make the radical move to trust kids, even when they are deeply struggling? Can we trust them, before they've "earned it"? And could trust, in fact, be the crucial element that leads us toward healing?

Why is everything so hard?


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