Trust-Building: Babies to Teens
Maintaining parent-child relationships during the teenage years can be a challenge. Fortunately, if you start at a young age, building an environment of trust isn’t as difficult as you may think.
From the moment your child is born, she depends on you for everything.
“Trust begins from day one,” says Catherine Hutter, PhD, clinical child psychologist on staff at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “It develops when a baby’s physical needs are met, so if you are there to feed her, change her and respond to her, you’ll begin laying the foundation for a close relationship in later years.”
Toddler to Young Child
Parents who provide consistency and structure help form strong relationships with their children. Remember, parenting is about teaching and guiding your child, which doesn’t always mean being his best friend.
“It’s important to empathize with your child and understand where he’s coming from,” Dr. Hutter says, “but you need to keep this understanding within boundaries. Try to see things from your child’s perspective, and then help him understand what choices are available and appropriate for him to make.”
Since basic communication skills are necessary for any trusting relationship, when your child is upset, listening non-judgmentally will allow him to express both negative and positive emotions through words rather than physical outbursts or temper tantrums.
“Parents play a key role in helping children communicate emotions, which are hard for kids to conceptualize,” Dr. Hutter says. “Talk to your child about feelings such as sadness, happiness, anger or fear, and help him learn constructive ways to deal with these feelings. For example, teach him to draw a picture of his fear, and then throw the paper away. This gives him a tangible way to get rid of something that’s essentially intangible.”
Preteen to Teenager
As your child grows older, it’s essential that you maintain open communication. Valuing your child’s viewpoint and allowing her to make her own choices (within reason) makes her feel accepted and respected.
“Teenagers who are given room to make decisions for themselves appreciate their parents’ support and realize their parents trust them enough to give them some freedom and autonomy,” says Sarah Tycast, MD, adolescent medicine physician on staff at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “You’re teaching your child how to become an adult. Isn’t it better that they learn valuable lessons now, while you are still there to guide them and help if they need it, rather than later when you’re not?”
If your child tells you about a personal decision she’s made that you feel is a mistake, don’t immediately begin to lecture her. Instead, have an open and honest conversation.
“If it’s an upsetting topic, wait until everyone has calmed down,” says Sarah Tycast, MD, adolescent medicine physician on staff at St. Louis Children’s Hospital. “Talk about what happened, how the decision was made, what the thoughts and events behind her decision were and what the consequences were. Then, brainstorm ways to help her make different and better choices in the future.”
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