“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
“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
In an old issue of Psychology Today, I ran across an article featuring the words of Dennis Rosen, M.D.
Sometimes children seem so self absorbed and so preoccupied with gadgets and toys, we wonder whether they are aware of, or care about, what goes on around them. We like to tell ourselves, “Something” must be wrong with this generation.
Except there isn’t. The problem lies with us, the adults, who could be challenging them to think about others, and leading them to action.
Prior to going to Haiti to volunteer at a hospital, Dr. Rosen spoke to his daughter’s second grade class about the conditions there, showing them pictures of what life is like for children just like them. Following his visit, the class collected over 7,000 vitamins for him to give out.
“The empathy and genuine interest of these seven year olds was so impressive, and yet, upon reflection, not really that surprising. To help others in need is a very basic human instinct (though one that is not always acted upon).”
5 fun activities teach kids to think of others.
Author Cat Skorupski’s ideas I’m going to use with the kids in my life this summer:
- Surprise parents by making a favorite food for each of them and present it at the next meal.
- Do a chore without being asked. This seems like a no-brainer, but it’s one that will resonate big-time with parents. The more annoying the chore, the better. Make a movie of each child doing it and show their parents.
- Raise money for a cause dear to someone’s heart. Showing that you care about something he or she cares about—enough to invest your time and energy—is a huge compliment.
- Take a song you already know and write new words to it, making it about someone special to you! It doesn’t have to be complicated—heck, it doesn’t even have to be on-key. It’s the thought that counts! Then record it onto a phone or computer and send it to them.
- Create a scavenger hunt. Hide affirmation notes around the house for a sibling or other relative to find. The notes could be hidden in sequence with clues that lead the hunter to the next treasure or they could just be hidden randomly.
Tweetable: Show kids how you care about others, then guide them do this directly on their own with 5 new ideas. Click to Tweet
Are we doing children a favor by letting them have the easiest and best of everything? “What distinguishes healthy families is not the absence of problems or suffering but rather their coping and problem solving abilities.” (Froma Walsh)
A good definition of “resilient” is found in Ms. Walsh’s book, Strengthening Family Resilience: “the capacity to rebound from adversity strengthened and more resourceful.”
Ways to let children practice resilience
- Praise a child’s patience with a younger sibling’s interference with their toys, rather than jumping to stop the conflict.
- Encouragement: “You’re a star when it comes to trying new things.”
- Even if you think it’s “too hard” for a child, give him or her independence to try new things they initiate, such as climbing at the playground or opening a container. Let them try things for themselves, even if it means they may fail. Nothing builds resilience like failure– and the realization that you can move on from it.
- Teach children phrases such as “this too shall pass” or “every challenge makes you stronger.” These phrases frame struggles as challenges to overcome, not tests to avoid.*
Resiliency’s spiritual component
Adversity invites all of us, including kids, into the spiritual domain. Strong faith, beliefs, and practices can foster a resilient spirit that lasts a lifetime.
See how these different spiritual beliefs influence a child’s resilience:
- They tried to bury me, but they didn’t know I am a seed. (Mexican proverb)
- Not everything is good, but God causes everything to work together for the good.
- “…though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death, I will fear no evil, for thou art with me….” (Psalm 23)
- “Get up rejoicing. It’s a new day… with a will, there’s a way.” (M. Izunwa)
What spiritual beliefs in your family’s heritage influence resilience?
Note: Credit goes to Chelsea Smith for the Ideas to practice resilience.
- Strong faith beliefs and practices can foster a resilient spirit in kids that lasts a lifetime. Click to Tweet
- Do we really do kids a favor by giving them the easiest and best of everything? Some thoughts on resilience. Click to Tweet
Many times, a personal story sheds a brighter light on the subject than moralizing. Rather than telling a child facing a question or decision what to do, telling them a story from your own life can be much more helpful. It helps them think creatively and gives them the confidence that they can come to their own solutions.
When children raise questions, our ideal response is to hear them out and invite more dialog. Lisa Miller uses something like: “You bring such important questions to the family;” or “When I was a child I wondered that, too. I am so happy you are sharing these thoughts with me.”
Consider what spiritual stories you can tell the children in your life.
A friend of mine (mother of three teens) who does this says, “It could be about a time you failed, a time you needed God, a time you doubted God, a time you were surprised by something you couldn’t explain, a time when you sensed God communicating something to you. And consider what beliefs of yours came out of these experiences.”
Questions to help adults remember our spiritual stories we can share with kids:
- What beliefs define your decision-making process?
- What do you believe about how you will relate to people? Strangers, enemies, wrongdoers, immediate family, etc.
- How do you relate to God?
- When have you had times of doubt when God felt very far away?
- What/who are your trusted sources that informed your spiritual progression, growth and wisdom?
- What gives your life purpose and meaning?
- How did you arrive at your present spiritual place?
Our spiritual stories don’t have to be noble or positive. The power comes from it being real and being yours.
Note: Some of the ideas for questions were inspired by Tom Rapsas on StoryCorps.
- Tell kids your spiritual story. They’re still forming a moral compass and our experiences inspire. Click to Tweet
- Seven questions here that help adults remember our spiritual stories we can share with kids.