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Parenting Fail: Regaining the Trust of Your Children

February 12, 2014

apologyUnfortunately, at some point, your children will realize that you are human and that you make mistakes. Even worse, though, is when they experience a breach of trust.

Maybe your child witnesses you telling a lie, stealing the last cookie in the jar or neglecting to follow through on a commitment. Regardless, when trust is lost, it’s difficult – though not impossible – to regain your child’s admiration and respect.

You’ve Got Some Explaining to Do

As parents, it’s important to model respectful behavior. Unfortunately, at times, parents make mistakes and children, who observe your every move, witness faltering behavior.

For example, if you openly say that you do not want to see a family member, but then act excited when you greet him or her, your child may be confused when your words do not match your actions.

According to Tina Tessina, California-based psychotherapist, it’s important to explain your behavior to teach your child how to interact and trust others and to build the trust he or she has in you. In age-appropriate terms, explain why you acted or reacted in a certain manner. Avoid making excuses and own your mistakes. It also helps to set a plan to change the behavior by communicating your goals with the child.

“If you know you’ve been acting badly, treating others badly or out of control, you have to get yourself under control first and then make amends,” says Tessina. “If the problem is not that bad, you need to recognize your part of the problem and apologize. You need to learn to work together in your family.”

Model Behavior You Want to See

Parents are constantly teaching and reminding children how to respect others. Your behavior needs to match your teachings, though, in order for the lesson to sink in.

According to Tessina, if you are not truthful to your children or to others, you can’t expect your children to be truthful. Model the behavior you want to see by allowing your children to see you telling the truth, following through on your commitments and being respectful to others.

If a breach of trust has occurred, show your child firsthand how you plan to make amends. If a child witnesses a parent apologizing to someone else for hurtful words or actions, it teaches him to do the same. “Children generally lose the trust of their parents by breaking rules and lying about it,” says Tessina. “Parents can lose the trust of their children by being scary and violent, out of control and unreliable or by acting in shameful ways the children find out about.”

One of the best ways to regain trust from your child is by working on yourself, modeling positive and respectful behavior and teaching your child by example.

Think Long-Term

A quick “I’m sorry” uttered from you may amend the situation in the short term, but it’s important to think long-term to regain trust from your children and teach respectful behavior. Just one change does not always pay off long term, says Janet Zinn, New York-based psychotherapist. “It takes twice as long to regain the trust of others,” she says.

Keeping your commitments consistently shows a child that you can be trusted. For instance, if a parent is constantly at work rather than watching soccer or little league, the parent can’t regain trust just by showing up to one game. “The parent can’t promise to come to the next game only,” says Zinn. “The parent has to show up for a few games and be honest about the times he or she can’t make it rather than giving a lame promise.”

Primarily, it’s crucial for parents to ‘show’ versus just ‘tell’ a child what it means to be trusted. Although it may take more time to display trustful behavior over a few months, in the end, it is much more reassuring and effective than uttering “I’m sorry” when you have faltered in the eyes of your child.

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4 Responses to Parenting Fail: Regaining the Trust of Your Children

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Joy R. says:

I want to tell my child that I’m going to be at his games/school events, but my schedule is so erratic that I can end up getting called away at any given moment. Because of this, I’ve definitely broken his trust on more than one occasion – what can I do?

This is such a useful article as maintaining trust with your child is the key to a good relationship. Parents often feel like they’ve jeopardized their closeness to their children when really the problem is easily solved by just finding the right way to approach it.

admin says:

We couldn’t agree more! Thanks for the input!!

Lanna Brown says:

i failed my kids my teen son is unforgiving