How to Build a Trustworthy Relationship with Your Child

Teenager son and senior father sitting on stairs outdoors at home, talking.

I spend a lot of time with young people. My day job is teaching ninth graders and my full-time job (which, surprisingly still takes considerable time and effort) is mothering four young adults. In both settings, I’m still learning how to build trustworthy relationships which set high expectations while still providing a safe place to grow and explore.

For me, it’s been a bit of trial and error mixed with some common sense to find what works and what doesn’t. And while I don’t claim to be an expert in this area, I’m smart enough to look to the real experts for insights and encouragement to gauge how I’m doing. Here’s what they have to say.

Why Is it Important to Build Trust with a Child?

Andrea Loewen Nair, psychotherapist and educator, shares that trust is “a positive belief in the good within people and the world.” She explains that trust is developed through “positive core beliefs,” which are essentially “the set of phrases we tell ourselves based on how we interpret other people’s actions and how the world works.” These positive core beliefs help children interact and build relationships with others throughout their lives.

How to Build a Trustworthy Relationship with Your Child

Nair offers these eight strategies to let your child know they can trust you.

  1. Listen. Listening is different than hearing. Pay attention to what your child is saying to you and make sure you understand. If you’re not sure, restate what you think you hear to confirm you heard right. This strategy communicates to your child that you hear them and that what they say matters.
  2. Attune. This is a deeper form of listening, where you pick up on nonverbal clues your child is sending. This strategy communicates to your child that you are aware of their needs, even when they are unspoken.
  3. Use eye contact. Look your child in the eye when they interact with you. Eye contact, especially on a child’s level, conveys sincerity. This strategy communicates to your child that you want to connect with them in important and safe ways.
  4. Respond. When your child asks for help, meet those requests to the best of your ability. This includes emotional responses such as validation of their feelings. This strategy communicates to your child that when they have needs, they can ask for help and you will help them.
  5. Be reliable. Don’t make promises you don’t intend to keep and keep the promises you make. This strategy communicates to your child that keeping your word is important.
  6. Tell the truth. Be honest with your children and avoid white lies. Of course, be cautious that the details you share are age appropriate. But tell the truth whenever possible. This strategy communicates to your child that telling the truth is important and that they can believe what you say.  
  7. Establish boundaries, consistency, and routine. When a child can count on certain rules, even if they don’t like or agree with them, their trust grows. These rules provide safety and security in an insecure world. This strategy communicates to your child that you are keeping them safe and providing consistency.
  8. Be open. Parenting is a guessing game much of the time. So, it’s ok if you make mistakes along the way. The important thing is to be open with your child and apologize if things don’t go perfectly. Share vulnerabilities and struggles as well as successes. This strategy communicates to your child that they don’t have to be perfect either and that you are a safe option for sharing struggles.

Tips for Parents and Teens

The Boys and Girls Club of America offers some great tips for parents and teens who want to up their trust game.

If you’re a parent, try some of these suggestions.

  • Ask open-ended questions. Give your teens some room to express themselves and add value to the conversation. They have great things to say. Give them a chance to say them.
  • Give specific encouragement. Point out specific things your teens are telling you. Validate feelings—both good and bad—and let them know you appreciate their willingness to share with you.
  • Model the behavior you want to see. Show them how to be in a trustworthy relationship by being trustworthy yourself. Keep your word, admit when you fall short, and keep the dialog going.
  • Give your teen opportunities to be independent. Of course, this takes fine tuning. But it’s OK to let your kids fail sometimes. You might be surprised at how often they succeed. And your mutual trust will grow in the process.
  • No matter what, be on their team. Let your kids know you have their back. If they know they can count on you even when things get tough, that trust will grow.

Your teens can help build trust too. Here are some things they can do.

  • Tell you (their parent) what they need. We might love our kids, but we aren’t mind readers. Encourage your kids to tell you what they need to be happy or get through the trying times. Open dialog goes a long way.
  • Be honest. As the parent, you can encourage your kids to be honest and open with you. Let them know that honesty and openness are more valued than what they might have done right or wrong. Encourage them to talk to you about it all.
  • Express how much they value your trust. We might be the parents, but we like to know that what we do matters, especially when we’re trying to build relationships of trust with our kids. So, encourage them to let you know how you’re doing.

Keep Trying

Trust with our kids doesn’t happen overnight. It takes time, patience, and lots of adjusting; it takes vulnerability and confidence; it takes work. But if you keep at it, you’ll find that the rewards are worth the effort. Nothing beats being in a relationship where you can trust your kids and they can trust you.