“Eighty percent of success is just showing up,” according to Woody Allen. In building trust with kids, that is absolutely true.
Trusting relationships start with us.
One of my mentors, Linda Sibley, shares her perspective.
“Attention to little things over the long haul is key,” she says. That includes things like sharing meals together, creating a stable schedule for co-parenting or establishing and maintaining family traditions.
Sounds easy, doesn’t it?
Yet when our own life journey hits emotionally and physically draining situations, these “little things” can feel overwhelming!
Fortunately, we don’t have to be perfect to establish a trusting home. Trust is built by our consistent efforts –especially when we are tired or stressed—over the long haul.
Trusting relationships start– but don’t end– with us.
Along with trusting safe people, a young child’s natural trust in God also needs to be nurtured and fed with great care. We must tread very gently so as not to damage this innate bond with God. We all began life with it. Many parents can relate with this quote, a blogged note in response to a London Times online article:
I am completely unreligious. It is so strange that my 4 year old believes in god and talks about it once in a while. I never taught that to him. Anyway, sounds interesting, it’s partly human nature.*
Some of us did not receive much childhood assistance to develop our trust in God.
But we can choose a different approach with the children in our lives. One note of caution: Avoid linking the basis of a child’s trust to answered prayers or obtaining favors from God.
Their trust in God can be damaged when we lead them to believe that their prayers to God always get answered in the affirmative (i.e. mom and dad get back together or a cousin escapes a car accident with no injuries).
Instead, watch for expressions of love in daily life and you will find God at work there.
*Quoted in Born Believers by Justin Barrett, page 176.
Tweetable: Watch for expressions of love in daily life and you will find God at work there. Click to Tweet
Sooner or later, every child sees trouble coming into life. Things go wrong. Even young children feel anger, disappointment, grief, pain and loss.
Older kids might not like the design of their body, the parents they got or didn’t get. They are surprised when they first learn that adults aren’t always fair or kind.
They are sad when the people who are supposed to keep them safe don’t do their job. They feel helpless when bad things happen or no one listens to them. Their anxiety level rises.
We cannot take away children’s uncomfortable feelings.
But we can reassure them that they are loved by their parents, family members, friends and very importantly—by God.
Guard against offering them false promises.
For example, when serious marital problems persist, avoid over-promising: “Your mom and I will work things out, and we’ll all be a family again.”
Likewise, we should be familiar with what God promises– and doesn’t promise– and stay true to this when we inform children about God. For instance, we can mislead children: “Say a prayer so that Grandpa will get well.” or “Stop doing that or God will punish you.”
Offer true promises backed up by God’s word and character.
I use several child-centered promises from the sacred writings of the Talmud and New Testament to reassure children in times of trouble. You can find others as well.
- God cares about you.
- God is love and all love comes from God.
- God is trustworthy.
- You will seek Me [God] and find Me when you search for Me with all your heart.
- God understands everything you feel inside.
- I [God] am with you and will watch over you wherever you go.
Tweetable: Be accurate about what God promises people and avoid misleading children. Six true promises here. Click to Tweet
“Children carry family secrets. Their powers of observation add to the problem when they see, for example, one parent covering up for another or acting as if everything is okay when it obviously is not,” says author Linda Sibley. She continues…
Guideline #1: Tell children the truth.
In an effort to protect children from the painful side of life, family members often make the mistake of not talking to them about difficult family issues. Unfortunately, not talking to children about what is real does not protect them.
“Children always know…. They just don’t always know what they know.” –John Bradshaw
And when children know something is wrong and no one will talk to them about it at an age-appropriate level, they fill in the blanks for themselves. Their version will include distorted details.”
Truth sets free
In one of Jesus’ best known statements made to the people who believed in him, he declares: “You are truly my disciples if you remain faithful to my teachings. And you will know the truth, and the truth will set you free.” (John 8:31-32)
In reality, it is much easier for children to deal with the real truth about family issues than with their made-up version of it. For adults, the toughest part of these conversations is separating the information that children need from our own emotional baggage.
Trust that Jesus was right and give kids the truth they need.
Keep it age-appropriate. Gain your own composure so that you aren’t mixing in your embarrassment, anger or fear.
Guide them toward one or two safe people to tell.
For years, I’ve been leading support groups where children share their concerns with kids their own age under the supervision of a trained facilitator. Parents report that the children feel less anxious and burdened down. Kids realize, often for the first time, that no family is perfect and that other kids have similar feelings and concerns.
Tweetable: Is it better to protect kids from difficult family situations by keeping everything positive? Read more. Click to Tweet
At any given age children experience normal fears and anxieties. If a family becomes concerned about a child’s unusually high level of anxiety, plenty of psychological resources exist. But there is an additional, important resource to be found in anchoring children at their core—in their spirit.
We all need a place to take our troubles and fears.
For centuries the Bible has been a reliable source of wisdom and offers a powerful picture of what God is like. In one of it’s most meaningful, familiar passages, the 23rd Psalm, a fearful young man writes his prayer:
“Even though I walk through the darkest valley, I will fear no evil, for you are with me; your rod and your staff, they comfort me.”
And much later in the book: “Give all your worries and cares to God, for God cares about you.”
Laura Turner states, “The admonition not to fear is the most frequently repeated instruction in the Bible.”
What my parents did
At a very young age, my parents gave me the following words, recorded in Genesis, spoken by God to Jacob: “I am with you and will keep you in all places.” They explained that nothing could separate me from the love of God, even when harm came to me.
“People have choices,” they said, “and some people hurt others, but when bad things happen to you, God is right there with you. God understands, and you will never be alone.”
Time and time again, these words–God is with me and will keep me in all places–comforted, reassured and built my sense of security not dependent upon my circumstances.
Security–a most valuable gift
Through the dangers, disappointments and losses of my life, God remains a steady presence in the depths of my spirit. I speak of this to the children I love so that they can develop a sense of security rooted in the presence of God and of people who love them.
Note: Bible quotes are Psalm 23:4, Genesis 28:15, 1 Peter 5:7
Tweetable: How my parents instilled a sense of security deep in my spirit that continues to this day. Click to Tweet
Hopefully these sample answers, which you can adapt to your specific beliefs, provide some seed ideas for conversation. They are written at a child’s vocabulary level. What you are saying and doing now will help lay crucial groundwork for their exploration of God later in life.
You can use any way you want to let God know you love God.
It’s just like you have different ways of letting your family and friends know how you feel. Some kids like to write a letter to God. Most tell God in words they say out loud or keep in their thoughts (this is called prayer). Others draw something that expresses their love, write a poem or a song.
One important way to express your love for God is to love yourself.
Take very good care of yourself. You know many ways to do that, like giving your body enough sleep and healthy food, staying safe by listening to wise adults, and paying attention to your relationship with God. You love God when you admire and care for yourself.
Another way is to love people.
An equally important way to express your love for God is to love people by being as good to them as you are to yourself. That can mean sacrificing your comfort or happiness in order to treat someone well. A lot of trouble would vanish if everyone were as good to other people as they are to themselves.
Spend time with others who love God as much or more than you do.
Your family can help you find a youth group, a church, synagogue, or other place with kids your age who have a connection with God. You can find a sense of belonging. You might learn different ways they use to let God know how much they love God.
Tweetable: What to say when a child asks, “How can I let God know I love God?” Seed ideas here for you to adapt. Click to Tweet