A trustworthy person is honest, follows the rules, keeps a promise, is not unkind, and does not take things that do not belong to him. Developing an attitude of trust, being trustworthy, and building trust with one another takes time, but through consistent and responsive caregiving, children learn trustworthiness.
To support the development of trust in children, practice the following:
- Be an example of trust to children. Especially in their early years, children must know they can depend on their caregivers to learn trust. Infants learn trust through the caring behaviors of those meeting their needs. By acknowledging and responding to an infant’s cries as she tries to communicate her needs, the caregiver communicates, “You can trust me to meet your needs.” This early development of a trusting relationship provides a foundation for future trusting relationships according to developmental psychologist Erik Erikson (McLeod, 2017).
- Give children opportunities to be trustworthy. Demonstrate your trust in your child by responding to her statements in a way that demonstrates you trust what she is saying. Provide your child with the opportunity to follow through on a set of directions or an important task. Adjust directions based on your child’s age. Older children can handle multiple-step detailed directions whereas a younger child may require single-step simple directions. As your child completes the tasks you have given her, share your joy in being able to depend on them to follow through. Follow-through is part of trustworthiness.
- Talk about trust. Throughout the early childhood and school age years, read books together or share stories about trust like The Berenstain Bears and the Truth by Stan Berenstain. Talk through the behaviors of the characters in the story and tie those behaviors to trust. Expand the conversation by discussing feelings with younger children asking questions like, “How do you think Mother Bear felt when she found out her children were not telling the truth?” For older children, help them to connect trust as a quality in a good friend. Discuss situations in which trust is important and look for examples of trustworthy behaviors in the books you read together.
- When trust is broken, talk to your child about how broken trust impacts your relationship with them using age-appropriate terms. At times, there will be a need for consequences because of breaking trust. How these consequences are imposed may lead to more deceit in the future or it can create an environment where your child recognizes the benefits of truthfulness to secure trust. Think of the age-old adage of George Washington and the Cherry Tree – Washington’s father celebrated his honesty first rather than disciplining him for damaging the cherry tree. Remind your child of the importance of trust and discuss how to do things differently next time to secure and restore trust.
Children continue to develop their understanding of trust throughout their lives. At Stepping Stone School, we want to lay those foundations on which children can learn and build trust. Thank you for sharing your precious children with us.