Over time, we earn our children’s trust in other ways: following through on the promise we
make to play a game with them later, not breaking a confidence, picking them up on time.
At the same time, we extend our trust to them by expecting the best from them and believing in their fundamental goodness and potential.
As parents and au pairs, we trust in the power of human development to help our child grow, learn, and mature. We trust that although our child may act like a child today,
he or she is always developing into a more mature person (just as, hopefully, we are.) We
trust that no matter what he or she does, there is always the potential for positive change.
Trust does not mean blindly believing what your teenager tells you. Trust means not giving
up on your child, no matter what he or she does.
Trust means never walking away from the relationship in frustration, because you trust that she needs you and that you will find a way to
work things out.
Encourage, Encourage, Encourage.
Think of your child as a plant who is programmed by nature to grow and blossom. If you
see the plant has brown leaves, you consider if maybe it needs more light, more water, more fertilizer. You don’t criticize it and yell at it to straighten up and grow right. Kids form their view of themselves and the world every day. They need your encouragement to see themselves as good people who are capable of good things. And they need to know
you’re on their side. If most of what comes out of your mouth is correction or criticism, they won’t feel good about themselves, and they won’t feel like you’re their ally. You lose your only leverage with them, and they lose something every kid needs: to know they have an adult who thinks the world of them.
Remember that respect must be mutual.
Pretty obvious, right? But we forget this with our kids, because we know we’re supposed to be the boss. You can still set limits (and you must), but if you do it respectfully and with empathy, your child will learn both to treat others with respect and to expect to be treated respectfully himself.
Once when I became impatient with my then 3 year old, he turned to me and said “I don’t
like it when you talk to me that way.” A friend who was with us said, “If he’s starting this early, you’re going to have big problems when he’s a teenager!” In fact, rather than challenging my authority, my toddler was simply asking to be treated with the dignity he had come to expect.
Now a teenager, he continues to treat himself, me, and others, respectfully. And he chooses peers who treat him respectfully. Isn’t that what we all want for our kids?
Think of relationships as the slow accretion of daily interactions.
You don’t have to do anything special to build a relationship with your child. The good — and bad — news is that every interaction creates the relationship. Grocery shopping, carpooling and bathtime matter as much as that big talk you have when there’s a problem. He doesn’t want to share his toy, or go to bed, or do his homework?
How you handle it is one brick in the foundation of your permanent relationship, as well as
his ideas about all relationships. That’s one reason it’s worth thinking through any recurring interactions that get on your nerves to see how you might handle them differently.
Interactions that happen more than once tend to initiate a pattern. Nagging and
criticizing are no basis for a relationship with someone you love. And besides, your life is too short for you to spend it in a state of annoyance.
Communication habits start early.
Do you listen when she prattles on interminably about her friends at preschool, even when you have more important things to think about?
Then she’s more likely to tell you about her interactions with boys when she’s fourteen.
It’s hard to pay attention when you’re rushing to pick up food for dinner and get home, but if you aren’t really listening, two things happen. You miss an opportunity to learn about and teach your child, and she learns that you don’t really listen so there’s not much point in talking.
Don’t take it personally.
Your teenager slams the door to her bedroom. Your ten year old huffs “Mom, you never understand!” Your four year old screams “I hate you, Daddy!” What’s the most important thing to remember? DON’T TAKE IT PERSONALLY!
This isn’t primarily about you, it’s about them: their tangled up feelings, their difficulty controlling themselves, their immature ability to understand and express their emotions. Taking it personally wounds you, which means you do what we all do when hurt: either close off, or lash out, or both. Which just worsens a tough situation for all concerned.
Remembering not to take it personally means you:
• take a deep breath
• let the hurt go
• remind yourself that your child does in fact love you but can’t get in touch with it at the
• consciously lower your voice
• try hard to remember what it feels like to be a kid who is upset and over-reacting.
• think through how to respond calmly and constructively