Helping kids establish (or re-establish) trust with parents

Excerpted and adapted from High School’s Not Forever by Dr. Jane Bluestein and Eric Katz, MSAC (2005, Health Communications, Inc, Deerfield Beach, FL). This piece was written for teens and young people, and is included on this site for parents, teachers, counselors, coaches, and others who work with kids. Feel free to share the information with any young person who may find these tips helpful. 

Do your parents trust you and appreciate how mature and level-headed you are? Or do you sometimes think they see you as ten-year-old? Or worse—do they mistrust you, assuming that any minute they’re not watching you, you’re up to no good?

Gaining—and keeping—your parents’ trust is a great way to increase your freedom and privileges. Even if you have a history of sneaking around or disregarding their rules and requests, you can change things with your parents so that you’re not competing for power or constantly at odds with one another. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Reliability builds trust. Follow through on your commitments. Do what you say you’ll do. Come in on time—or better yet, come in early.
  • When you blow it, avoid blaming or making excuses. Take responsibility for underestimating how long you thought something might take, forgetting an agreement, or getting distracted—and make specific, definite, and committed plans to make it right. 
  • Really, REALLY avoid doing things they specifically asked you not to do, even if you probably won’t get caught. 
  • Respect their space and their stuff. If you break something, fix it or replace it—without being asked.
  • Pitch-in unexpectedly. Act more mature than they expect you to.
  • Keep them informed if you’re running late—before they start to worry.
  • Involve them in your life. Let them meet your friends. Tell them things you’re doing. Let them know where you’re going.
  • Ask for definite and clear instructions or expectations. Make sure your picture of what they want is the same as their picture. 
  • Don’t leave out important information your parents will care about (and freak out about) if they find out later.
  • Look for ways to create win-win solutions to problems and disagreements with your parents. Think: “How can we both (or all) get what we want?” Parents may be more cooperative when they see you making a sincere effort to consider their needs and their feelings.
  • In some situations where they’re resistant to letting you do something, ask what you could do to make them more comfortable or agreeable to your doing what you’ve asked them to allow. Even if the answer is usually “Nothing,” there may be times, especially if you’ve been behaving reliably and maturely, when they’ll be willing to deal.
  • Even if you’ve never really given them a reason to mistrust you, understand that they may be have a hard time letting go or allowing certain things for reasons that have nothing to do with you—like their own fears and experiences, or worries about your safety, for example.
  • If your parents say they trust you but they’re concerned about the people you hang out with, build up a history of resistance to peer pressure and “bad influences.” Again, let them get to know your friends. Let your parents see you as accountable for your behavior regardless of how others are behaving, and not likely to just go along with the crowd.
  • Use mistakes and errors of judgment as learning opportunities. Make a plan. Think in terms of how you’ll handle (or avoid) similar situations more positively, maturely or constructively in the future.

If you have violated their trust in the past… 

  • Understand that it may take some time before they can let go of their suspicions and fears. 
  • Realize that it’s up to you to build up a new and more trustworthy track record. 
  • Be willing to invest time, patience and persistence in rebuilding their trust. 
  • Validate their concerns and remind them of how you’ve improved: “I know I haven’t been all that reliable in the past, but I’ve really been trying and I want to get this right. I’ve been home on time every night I’ve gone out for the past three months.” 
  • Ask for new opportunities to regain their trust in you, and do whatever you can to give them evidence that their faith was well placed.

Follow-up questions to consider (and answer):

  • Describe an area in which your parents really seem to trust you.
  • Describe an area in which your parents seem to trust you less than you might like.
  • What events or experiences have contributed to this lack of trust?
  • What type of commitment or behavior do you think it would take for your parents to trust you in a similar situation again?
  • What are you willing to do or offer in order to give your parents a good reason to trust you?

Don’t go psycho…

Parents are more likely to really listen if you aren’t angry or hysterical and don’t have a chip on your shoulder. The more your behavior resembles a tantrum, the more likely your parents are to reject your pleas. The more rational, logical and reasonable your approach, the more likely your parents are to consider your request.
—Chérie Carter-Scott*

Excerpt from High School’s Not Forever by Dr. Jane Bluestein and Eric Katz (2005, Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL) * Quoted in Chérie Carter-Scott, If High School is a Game, Here’s How to Break the Rules (New York: Delacorte Press, 2001), 71.

© 2005, 2012, 2022, Dr. Jane Bluestein

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