[Week 1 of 52 Weeks to a Better Relationship With Your Child]
The trust of a child
Trust is the basis of any thriving relationship. This is no less true with a child. Oddly, children seem to have built in trust-sensors. What we might be able to fake with adults, children will see right through. They probably don’t even know they are evaluating whether or not you, a parent, can be trusted, but they have a vantage point that is as unique as it is needy.
One important way they evaluate a parent’s trustworthiness is by how other people are treated. This falls into two categories.
1. How does a parent treat people within the household
2. How does a parent treat people outside the household
How home gets into the heart
Inside the house, the child gets to see how a parent problem solves with others. There is nothing quite like living together that exposes our tendencies to selfishness and lack of self-control. Is a parent able to discuss concerns and differences of opinion in productive ways? Is it done with care for the other people involved? Is a parent honest about his/her own limitations? Is conflict approached from a foundation of humility, for all of us should admit we are constantly learning more of life and rarely fully understand another’s point of view.
By humility, I don’t mean groveling. That is not humility of the right sort. The right sort of humility will be blended with a reasonable amount of confidence in self-worth. Self-worth is, in my mind, different from self-esteem. Self-esteem is built on the unstable foundation of accomplishment, while self-worth is simply that we each have an inherent value as human beings.
I by no means imply that a parent must be perfect in any of these areas, for no parent is. However, there does need to be a consistency that tends toward predictable reactions. The bottom line is that a parent needs to do what it takes to develop these qualities of compassionate self-control in solving conflicts. The child is watching.
The other parent is still the most common person that a child will see a parent interact with. The child will see if there is care and respect for the other person and the relationship. There may also be either older children or aging grandparents in the household. A parent must understand that how any of these others are treated will affect how the child will respond to relationship with the parent.
A couple of ways to build trust in the home
One crucial way for respect and care for the other parent to be manifest is by NOT complaining about the other parent. Don’t do it vocally when the other parent is there and don’t do it when he/she is gone. Don’t do it in any kind of passive aggressive way either. Of course, I mean real complaining. There may be a place for family jokes, if everyone is in on them and laughing.
A positive way to show respect and care for the other parent is to be obviously appreciative of the work he or she does for the household. It will make gratefulness grow all around. It will also help a child develop a better attitude toward work.
Why it matters how we talk about people behind their backs
Most of us tend to be outwardly polite to individual people who are outside of the household. There generally is not as much opportunity for conflict and there is not as much reason to risk any conflict. The challenge here is how these people are treated and spoken of when they are not present.
A child will notice when others are spoken of with malice or contempt. This will teach them that they never know how they are treated behind their backs. It will also undermine the parent’s credibility.
This is not to say that people’s faults or wrong doings or even quirks can never be discussed in the family setting. On the contrary, that is the best place to talk about how to deal with all of these things with people. People CAN be hard to get along with. The trick is to do it without showing hatred toward the outsiders. It is fine to be convinced of a better way of acting or behaving, but it is poisonous to feel an arrogance toward those we disagree with.
Even if someone has done something morally wrong, an attitude of sorrow at the event is wise. We all make mistakes, intentionally or accidentally. We all need mercy at one time or another. A child will have more reason to trust if any justice is balanced with the love. When a parent is someone who brings peace to situations, that parent can be trusted.
How to work on world peace
When my children were young and dealing with a behavioral issue, I often counseled them that no matter how hard they worked on trying to behave in a good way, it would be much more of a strain if they didn’t work on their hearts. Their efforts were also more likely to fail. If they were supposed to be polite to someone, it would be much easier to do with a good attitude.
The same thing is true for adults. One way or another, a parent needs to work on having a moral and kind attitude toward other people in order to consistently act this way. When a child sees these qualities in a parent, there will be a foundation for respect that no amount of discipline can replace. It will be the sort of respect that allows a parent to communicate with a child more effectively. It will be the sort of respect that grows into friendship as the child matures.