Teaching Kids Who They Can Trust

by , M. Ed., Priceless Parenting (sign up for monthly parenting newsletter and receive 20+ printable charts for kids and parents)

(listen to article read by the author)

How Trust Feels

Who do you trust? Who should your kids trust? Being able to trust is foundational for close relationships. Families thrive when everyone can trust each other.

When there is trust, you feel safe sharing your innermost thoughts and feelings. You can take risks because you know the other person won’t take advantage of your vulnerability. You know they will be there for you.

Building Trust

Trust builds over time through everyday interactions. From the moment of their birth, your children need you to be reliable for keeping them safe and fed. As they grow and ask challenging questions, your honest answers increase their trust. When you make promises and follow through on those promises, you also build trust.

Babies and toddlers are honest in sharing their feelings. They don’t yet have the capability of hiding what’s going on inside. Around 3 or 4-years-old, kids learn they can lie. This is a developmental milestone because it demonstrates realizing that not everyone knows the same thing. Your kids figure out that if you didn’t see them take a cookie, then you do not know they took a cookie. The fact you can see cookie remnants on their face and clothes makes these early lies easy to catch. You then have a golden opportunity to discuss the importance of telling the truth.

Levels of trust fluctuate based on the age of your children and their skills. A preschooler cannot be trusted to use a sharp knife safely, but a teen can be. Kids can’t be trusted with tasks they are not capable of responsibly handling.

Suppose your children want to walk to a park to meet some friends. Depending on the ages of your kids and the park’s location, you may not be comfortable with them walking there alone. You tell them you need to go with them. They protest “you don’t trust us!” You can explain that trust is situational, not universally granted.

Eroding Trust

There are three values which are the basis for trusting someone: honesty, integrity and responsibility. How do these fit into your family’s top moral values? When any of these underlying values are compromised, trust is diminished.

What types of behavior can undermine trust?

  • Lying about something
  • Not keeping promises
  • Gossiping about others
  • Saying one thing but doing another
  • Blaming others instead of taking rightful ownership
  • Refusing to take responsibility for the results of your choices
After trust has been broken, it takes time and commitment to rebuild. There needs to be transparency and openness for this to happen. For example, imagine your child lied about being at after school homework club but was actually at a skateboard park with friends. How will your child rebuild your trust? Perhaps your child will ask the homework club leader to text you each day letting you know your child was there.

Figuring Out Who To Trust

Issues of trust are even more important when your kids are on the internet. They need to be able to discern what information to believe and who to trust. It’s not easy! Manipulation tactics have become sophisticated.

To avoid being trapped into believing fake news, kids need to be able to question what they are reading. A red warning flag should go up whenever something evokes strong emotions. It’s time to pause and think before sharing. Things to consider are

  • Where did this information come from?
  • Is this a reputable resource?
  • How does the author benefit from people reading this?
If a friend has shared the information, your child can ask where they got this information. Teach your child to focus on the article or information without attacking the person.

The internet has made the issue of trust trickier. Due to their limited life experiences, your kids are especially vulnerable to being manipulated. People who want to sexually exploit kids know this. They know how to quickly gain kids’ trust.

Kristin Jensen interviewed Russ Tuttle from The Stop Trafficking Project for her article “The Shocking Tactics Sex Traffickers Use to Trap Your Kids and 5 Ways You Can Protect Them”. Tuttle tells tragic stories of many American kids who have been sexually exploited.

Tuttle reports “we are now finding that on average the grooming process is now down to 8 days where a child will be willing to either meet a complete stranger in person they first met online or begin to share those ‘hot pics’, those nudes’ with someone who is asking for them or fall into some level of sexual exploitation.”

Your kids need your help to avoid problems like these. Discussing real life stories of kids getting sexually exploited is one way to help them recognize some of the dangers. It’s also important to talk about the problems of pornography with them and set boundaries on their internet usage.

You want your kids to be safe. You help keep them safe when you mentor them in determining who and when to trust. Being forewarned prepares them to make their best decisions.

About Kathy Slattengren

Kathy Slattengren

Parenting expert Kathy Slattengren, M. Ed., is dedicated to supporting parents in doing their best parenting. She helps families create homes where everyone feels accepted, heard, respected and appreciated.

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