I heard a story about a father and daughter visiting the Grand Canyon and walking along one of the trails. One narrow stretch of dirt pathway appeared quite treacherous and the father got a little scared. He asked his daughter to hold his hand for safety.
The daughter replied, “No, you hold my hand.”
Puzzled, the father asked what the difference was.
The daughter replied, “If I hold your hand, I might let go if something goes wrong. If you hold my hand, I know you’ll never let go.”
First, let me apologize for using a sappy story. I will try not to do it again.
Second, let’s talk about trust in our relationship with our kids. When death, divorce or separation has brought them into a predominately single-parent world, trust can be tenuous. Can dad be trusted or is the world now an untrustworthy place? Will my questions be answered honestly or will dad lie to make everything seem better?
Your kids may be asking slightly different questions, but at the core, they want to know if they can trust your words, your presence, and your commitment.
The little girl in the story viewed handholding as a relational bond, not a physical one.
So, how do we foster a trusting environment with our kids? Think about these ideas:
I DO WHAT I SAY: My son (and I suspect your kids) holds my feet to the fire when it comes to consistency and follow through. Ever tell your kid if they do a chore you will take them to QuickTrip for a treat? Nano seconds after they complete the task, they are all over you about when you will take them. Am I right?
Ever threaten your kid with punishment for some minor infraction (mainly because you are frustrated and tired) and then not actually invoke the consequence? Your kid will remember your threats can be idle. Trust is diminished.
Be slow to speak and be thoughtful, because your words need to match your actions. Trust will increase when your words hold true. If, for some reason,, you cannot follow through, take the time to offer an explanation…and honest explanation…so trust will not erode.
I SAY WHAT I DO: Kids have amazing imaginations. So, if you allow them room to create their own narrative for words or facts you leave out of an explanation, they will come up with some amazing (and potentially harmful) stories. Kind of like a bad game of parenting Mad Libs, except not as funny and possibly harmful to your relationship.
My son pretty consistently asked me if I was dating anyone. In fact, we were driving back from visiting my parents one day, and he informed me I could get a girlfriend simply by providing some pertinent information to eHarmony.com. He was seven at the time and, frankly, my dating life was not any of his business. But, he cared enough to ask and deserved an appropriate answer. I gave him an honest answer he could understand at his age, and he was not forced to make up his own narrative about my dating life.
Uncertainly and mystery do not foster trust. Give age-appropriate or situation-appropriate explanations, but do not force your kids to create their own explanations when you could otherwise build trust. So, like the girl in the sappy story suggested, lean in to your relationship and strengthen the bond with your kids.
Name a time you have threatened a punishment and not followed through. What were the consequences? Also, share a question your kids asked and you did not want to give an answer.