Our children need to know they can trust us. It is important for children to know that they will be cared for, that they have parents and caregivers who are there for them and tell them the truth.
We mean to, but sometimes, to make life easier we fudge on the truth (or even lie) to make our lives easier. When we tell a little white lie to protect our kids from information that is too mature for them (Saying Aunt Ida got her black eye by walking into a door, instead of that she was punched by Uncle Alan) we are doing our parenting job.
But, for the most part kids need to know what’s really happening and when we are honest, they learn they can trust us and will pay more attention to what we say.
Can Your Kids Trust You?
Community health nurses tell me that they have designated a special place in hell for parents who bring a child into the health unit for an inoculation but have told the child he won’t be getting a needle. They turn the child over to the nurse telling her what they told him. Parents explain that they didn’t want the child to be upset on the way to the appointment and the parent is certain the nurse can handle it. And we wonder why some kids simply don’t believe what their parents tell them about health care procedures. Added to that, these kids learn that they can’t trust their parents.
The point of this column is about trust. Trust: a firm belief that a person or thing may be relied upon; confident expectation. That’s what the dictionary says.
Children don’t just need our love; they need our unconditional love. That means that we love them just for being. We always love them. We love them when they are in the middle of the mother of all temper tantrums or sitting in a mud puddle in their new clothes two minutes before the photographer is due to arrive or when they just got caught skipping school.
And for kids that means trust. It means that they have the firm belief that the love of their parents can be relied upon. Trust is their rock. That trust gives them the sense of security that while they are growing up and figuring everything out and making mistakes, their parents will always be there. They can count on that.
Childhood is a time for growing and learning. As kids mature they take on new challenges and it’s risky. They might fail. Whether they’re trying to dress themselves, ride a bike without training wheels, audition for the class play or ask a friend to a party; when you’ve never done it before, it’s scary. What allows kids to take the risk and to go forward is the security of knowing that if they succeed their parents will be their greatest cheerleaders and if they fail their parents will still be their greatest cheerleaders. The support is unconditional.
So let’s look at what happens when our kids need to get their shots. How do we build their trust? Simple, we tell them the truth. Just say; “You’re going to have a needle in your arm today to make you stay healthy. The nurse will wipe your arm with alcohol, which may feel cool, and then she’ll put in the needle, which will probably pinch, and maybe even sting a bit. It’ll just last a few seconds. The spot may stay sore and itchy for a day. But you can handle that!” And by golly, they will. What if they cry? Well, that’s handling it. Crying is not a failure. It’s simply one mechanism people use to handle tough situations. Respect it.
The irony is that all too often we find it difficult to tell them about getting a needle. But if you visit the children’s hospital website, their advice for preparing kids for major surgery is to be truthful. Tell them what to expect. And they have professionals ready to help you.
Anticipation can be more frightening than reality. It’s always easier to face something when we know what to expect. So, protecting your kids from the truth almost always backfires, because eventually they have to deal with reality.
It’s important to prepare our kids for new experiences with the truth as much as we know it. Coupled with our belief in them, our children will thrive.
So, don’t tell them that kindergarten will be the same as preschool. It will be different. The adult-child ratio will change, the expectations are higher, the routine is more fixed and there is the start of academic expectations. That’s not a bad thing, but it is a change and your child can handle that.
Another way we can build trust is by letting our children know when we are going out and leaving them with a babysitter. Waiting until they are asleep, then hoping they won’t waken to find a stranger in charge is devastating to a child who does wake up. Sneaking away when you’re going out at night or when dropping kids off at daycare causes all sorts of distress.
No matter what the situation, be honest with your kids. Let them know by your actions that they can trust you. Giving your kids the gift of the truth also gives them the message that you have faith that they can handle whatever is on their plate, allows them to relax and know that no matter what is happening, they can trust you.
Bringing Parenting Today to your event.
Parenting Today is keen to speak as part of your professional development event, parenting workshop or workplace wellness support program. I offer keynotes and workshops, have written books and have ongoing newspaper columns, books, blogs and newsletters. And, no matter what the actual topic, they all share a basic value that I call
P — is a parenting plan
U — is unconditional love
R — is respect for your child as he is right now
E — is encouragement
These make up the framework of any resources that will come from Parenting Today. These four pillars are the essential ingredients for raising healthy children who will develop into capable young men and women.
I’ll be in Winnipeg from December 2 to 4. I am happy to extend these trips if you wish to book an event. I will also be in Calgary and can coordinate that trip to meet your scheduling needs.