Lyndsaye GrekeMH Blog

If you’ve ever found yourself asking this question, it’s likely because you are not getting information from your child, or feel like they are shutting you out. You think you’re supportive because you tell them they can trust you, but do your actions say the same thing?

Remember when you were a kid, what prevented you from telling your parents things? Did you fear their reactions? Did you think they could offer support or did you expect them to ridicule you? A child that is trying to figure out their identity cannot find trust or safety in a parent that believes they have the answer. Even if the parent does have the answer, part of navigating the challenges of growing up is coming to conclusions yourself.

 

Most of counselling is a matter of guiding individuals to their own realizations. This is because people learn best when they are able to discover answers on their own. This is why telling someone not to touch a hot stove does not have the same impact as an individual learning from the experience themselves. This doesn’t mean you should sit back and let your child experience life without warning. It does mean that you are more effective when they do experience things by being a soft landing for them to fall instead of a razorburn of “I told you so”s. So how do you become their safe place?

1. Acknowledge your flaws

No one is perfect, and as parents, there are times we make mistakes. Apologizing for those mistakes is crucial in winning over your child’s trust. If you raise your voice, scare your child, say something unkind, intimidate or create doubt in your child’s mind, you lose their faith in you. As someone responsible for having their back and teaching them how to be good people, you need to do just that. Even if you realize much later that what you did or said was harmful, it is crucial to let your child know. Telling them that you are aware of your mistake and that you are sorry creates a new level of respect that in turn allows your child to feel safer with you.

 

2. Be open to feedback

One way to win the trust of your child is by asking, and following through, on feedback from them. You might say “I always hated the way my dad told me I should know better,” or “I could never tell my mom this because I knew she’d get mad and wouldn’t hear me out.” Following these types of phrases by, “What do you need me to know so that I can be the best parent for you and that you can feel able to come to me and tell me things?” They may say they don’t know, but give them time to think about it and ask later. It could be simply, “Let me say what I have to say” or “Don’t get mad, just try to understand.” What we know as adults we had to learn, and that is exactly what your children are in the process of doing.

 

3. Punishment should not be a surprise

Discipline is necessary and children need to know what the rules and boundaries are. It’s a healthy part of growing up and understanding how to interpret the world. When it comes to parenting, having to dish out punishment is never fun, but kids do appreciate it, when it is understandable. Discipline that comes from behaviour that your child knew was wrong makes sense, but when they are punished for doing something they did not understand fully, it becomes complicated. The purpose of discipline is to help them learn what consequences are for unfavorable actions. When they know what the likely punishment will be, they can better gague their decisions and behaviour, and the consequences then become their choice because they knew what would happen. Discussing these consequences before your child commits undesirable behaviors means they feel like they have some control of the situation, once again building the trust of collaboration between you and your children.

 

4. Never punish a child’s emotions

Kids will react and express themselves, and the worst thing we can do is react negatively to their response. If your child cries, remember this is a natural response to trauma and stress. If your child slams doors, let them know what is acceptable. The most important thing you can do here is let them know their emotions are normal. You can say “I can see that you’re angry and hurt. Hurting the car door by slamming it causes other consequences. I don’t want you to feel like you can’t express yourself, why don’t you tell me about it instead? I will listen and not judge.” Judgement or focusing on the tantrums means you’re not listening to the underlying fear that your child’s anger is manifesting as. Make sure they know they can talk to you because you show them you’re interested. You might have to listen to them go on about something you don’t agree with, but be sure to let them talk it out first. After, you can find ways to discuss alternative thoughts.

 

5. Recognize that you might not be the one

At the end of the day, you may not be the person they can connect to. If that’s the case, consider finding someone that both you and your child trust that could be a source for them to talk to. This could be another family member, a trusted adult friend, mentor or counselor. Show your support to your child for having an outlet they can turn to. By offering this option, they can feel like you aren’t angry when you aren’t the one they share with. Eventually this can build up their trust in you as well and open them up to telling you more.

 

Remember that children are trying to navigate a very challenging world where social media, peer pressure, and family structure is different than before. The stress on them is significant. Make sure that you are not adding to their stress by showing them that you are closed off. Being their biggest support sometimes means listening instead of talking.