Very early in their lives, children learn what and who to trust and more often than not it is based on what they see and feel more than what they hear. It is worth taking a moment to consider what our relationship with them was around truth and, therefore, what they could trust. For example, did we value truth and encourage them to be honest and truthful with us, did we offer the same back to them? Did we find ourselves telling them ‘little white lies’ when we didn’t feel they were emotionally or physically equipped to deal with something? Perhaps we would because we wanted to protect them under the guise of thinking ‘we know best for the children’.
Yet what can happen is the child learns to mistrust the person they are supposed to trust the most because they know they are feeling something isn’t true. When the person they trust the most starts to tell them they are wrong, they can feel a stress, unease or an anxiety and can start to doubt their own inner radar. We want them to trust us as parents, but we want them also to know the absolute truth of trusting their inner radar, because that is what gives them the inner knowing for making sound decisions when you are not around. It is a life skill that needs to be taught, lived and reflected.
An example would be if you have had a row and you are upset but you say you are fine. The child knows you are upset but they learn to ignore that, as you are insisting you are fine! You are lying to your child because you perhaps don’t feel ready to talk about it, but they know you are lying. This creates an unease in the body that they have trouble reconciling – they know you, they can feel the sadness, anger, frustration, but the words they are hearing from you are telling them they are wrong. You may not want to talk to them about why you are upset, it may well be inappropriate, but that is also a skill they need to learn. Perhaps you could say - “yes, I am upset but I am not keen to talk about it at the moment or not ready to talk about it, so could you give me some time to understand how I am feeling first?” Then they get confirmed in their knowing that what they were feeling was right. They also learn to respect that another may not be ready to talk at that moment, even though they want to know or want to help. This is a very transferable skill at school!! You might even go back to them later and say, “thank you for noticing that I was upset, it really helped me see that I could get some help for myself and I have been able to talk to a counsellor or a friend”.
It may not be as simple as that in your situation, and there may be ongoing stress for you, but children and young adults are far more resilient than we give them credit for and if they understand the truth of what is going on, they can build the skills to deal with most situations. If we are told what we are feeling is wrong, we get confused about why we are feeling what we are clearly feeling. It is easy to see how this can lead to unease, self-doubt, worry, low self-esteem, stress and anxiety.
As our children mature into young adults they may want you to trust them as they start to go out and socialise, so this is a two-way process and life-skill. They, like you, may need to process what happens at school or in a relationship before they discuss it with you – if ever!! However, you noticing that something is up, is a great opportunity for you to express that you have noticed that they are perhaps ‘not themselves’ and to ask if they feel they have the resources they need to deal with what they are feeling.
Clearly trust is a precious commodity and one we can teach ourselves and our children to nurture through our lives. It is a foundational life skill, so perhaps now is a time to have a conversation together about what trust has looked like in your life and perhaps how you can build trust in your relationship.
We model many behaviours we are unaware of and yet a lack of trust can complicate relationships in our adult lives. I would encourage you not to feel like you need to be the authority in this area but to allow the process to teach you both and be open about the experiences growing up that coloured your experience of trust and truth.
This can be a wonderful opportunity to level the playing field and not feel like you have to have all the answers – your children may well have some pearls of wisdom that can support you!
Laying foundations for future years:
In this series of blog posts, you will find articles that discuss foundational practices in parenting. Not just articles on what we do but why we do what we do for a healthy body and a healthy relationship with others.