My children are all teenagers now. It’s safe to say, our relationships with each other greatly affect the way we live and feel from day-to-day. There are challenges within our relationships. There are days when security and harmony are absent in our home. I spend a lot of time trying to figure out how to improve our interactions and emotional safety status. Trust is a huge factor in establishing that heavenly state of security. Children, particularly those with insecure attachment styles, can’t let love fully into their vulnerable hearts until they trust us.
How children view trust
Childhood trauma and attachment physician, Dr. Aimee Apigian, says a child with an attachment disorder learns to trust through perceiving the adult as strong, stronger than they are. The adult must also be dependable.
Some of the characteristics that your child will be looking at to see if they can trust you include being predictable, all- knowing, super strong in character, and consistent throughout all situations… They will continue to push further in their behaviors until they are satisfied that you are unchangeable (super strong in character), consistent, in control of your own emotions, and able to control their emotions and behaviors. If you react with anger, if you allow their lies or manipulation to continue, or if you break down in tears when they won’t stop because you don’t know what to do, you have just failed the trust test.
— Dr. Aimee Apigian, “Two Lessons to be a Parent Who Can Heal Their Child”
I can’t tell you how many times I have failed the trust test. I know I let my children down when I was stressed and distant during the end of the marriage. I would flow with quality love and attention and then withdraw to my writing or close nourishing relationships. I withdrew to self-soothe, to take gulps of rejuvenating air.
I have broken down in tears because I was so hurt/angry/exhausted I did not know what to do with my child’s behavior or needs.
Strong and sensitive
I know my emotions have been seen as a sign of weakness or even stupidity in my son’s eyes. I’m pretty sure weakness and stupidity do not equate to strong.
Over the last few years, I have worked on building up my resilience to emotional and relationship wounds. In fact, my book, “The Quiet Rise of the Introvert: 8 Practices for Living and Loving in a Noisy World” is based on this personal and relationship strengthening. The biggest lesson has been that I cannot be emotionally strong without help and support. As an introvert, it was challenging at first to switch my thinking and actions to include others, but once I did, the drain of people lessened. I continue to become stronger, which benefits my children and me.
Nurture and structure
Part of my growth process has been to improve my level of responsiveness or dependability to my loved ones. Through research and real life practice I’ve learned to be more present, empathetic and consistent. I have a better understanding of how to make my children feel secure. I know, for example, listening with my eyes as my daughter talks about her rough afternoon is more important than turning my back to her and making headway on dinner preparation.
Consistency is another area I continue to be a student. Enforcing bedtimes, house rules and chores gives my kids a feeling of structure and consistency. Making sure I am not late to pick them up or do not forget to put money on their lunch accounts also go a long way in proving my accountability.
By the way, parents slip up. I aim for an 80% success rate, really more like 90%, but most experts say 80% is sufficient. I think my kids are particularly sensitive to being forgotten/disappointed, so I strive for a high percentage of success.
I struggle to not let my kids’ emotions affect mine. It’s easy for me to absorb their hurt or fear or anger and let it sway my decision-making. I know from past experiences, that in the long run my decisions (which if I’m on my game, are based on everyone’s long-term best interests), are often deemed acceptable after all the chaos dies down. The key is to gain understanding and express empathy but also lead the way by making choices based on my adult knowledge and experience.
Not too permissive or too strict
Love and understanding without structure and consistency do not make the child feel safe. They will not see you as strong and dependable, just easily swayed or (ugh) manipulated. Enforced structure and rules also help them develop self-discipline, another element of security.
Rigid rules and strict consequences do provide predictability (positive for children) but the child will not trust the adult is on their side if the relationship lacks understanding and empathy. They may respect the adult’s authority, but still not trust them.
Without trust, love isn’t allowed in or out. It’s too scary.
How have you earned your child’s trust? How have you failed the trust test? What can you work on?
If you’d like help creating greater trust and security within your family, please contact me for relationship coaching.