Trusting children seems to be a significant factor in building their self-esteem. Children sense when you are testing them. A test of trust proves there is little or no trust. Rather be confident that mutual trusting, which in extended process, will grow naturally as your knowledge of each other grows. Trust-growth happens most naturally when you and the child are mutually open, when you don’t close yourself off, and when you let your true emotions (especially your positive ones) show.
My daughters, I am told, are rather unique because they usually did their homework without being told. Parents and teachers have asked me how I managed to get my children to do their homework without checking up on them. “How did you motive them to want to do it and to do it without nagging?” they asked.
I accept no laurels, for the motivating happened quite unconsciously on my part. The fact was I didn’t know any better than to trust them to do it. From the beginning, I simply left to them the responsibility for doing their schoolwork. The oldest daughter passed on the awareness to the others, I guess. Since I didn’t check up on them, they had to check up on themselves. As it turned out, they were more demanding of themselves than I would have been of them.
While I could argue that the children became responsible themselves for doing homework because in our home academic performance was valued, the dominant cause seemed to be more in terms of my trust: I trusted they knew what they had to do and would do it, that they knew the assignments and when they were due, and would take responsibility for doing them. And they did.
Moreover, each daughter did it in her own style. One’s habit was to get assignments done ahead of time, if possible, while another consistently finished at the last exhausting minute, but finish she would.
It’s not that my children didn’t complain about homework as other children did. I often heard about how difficult and overwhelming their homework left to them. However, their comments to me seemed more a matter information than an invitation to get involved, worry about it, or nag them.
I never got to the point, as many mothers have told me about, where I had to bargain and threaten, or where I had to poke my head in the television room half a dozen times each schoolnight to ask, “Have you got your homework done yet?” Tactics like these tend to put parents and children in an adversary position, and sometimes invite lying in children.
The trust factor looms large during adolescence, when parents hear stories of drugs, alcohol, and sex. I am often wary of parents who confidently talk about being “sure” neither their children nor their friends use drugs or alcohol. What I’m saying is children will be exposed to drugs, alcohol, and sexual opportunities, and since no parents can ever completely protect them from such contact, one of the best things parents can do is convey to their children how much they value them and their health. Tell your children how precious they are to you; tell them you trust them to value themselves and to take care of themselves.
Above all, trust helps keep lines of communication with children open, so they feel to talk about their questions and concerns. How healthy it is for children and parents to discuss concerns in a nonthreatenning, trusting environment, and to laugh together whenever possible.
Self-esteem is unturned reciprocally by trust. If someone values you, it’s important that that person is someone you value. It’s helpful when the child values the parent, so that the parent’s esteeming of the child nurtures the child’s self-esteem.
When an adult cross-examines an adolescent as to “what went on at that party,” it’s difficult for the child to know if the questioning is happening because the parent values the health and safety of the child, or because the parents are concerned about their own control over the child’s life. Such control doesn’t mix well with trusting.
However, I think it’s very important for parents to recognize the times when valuing and loving a child also call for setting limits and exercising some control. Children can assume responsibility for their own lives only in areas where they are mature enough to do so. Some things involve too much responsibility, and here’s where parents need to be sensitive and assertive.
I’m thinking, for example, of the question of setting curfews for young adolescents. Freshmen in high school are often unsure and confused about how to fit in at the new school, how to be popular and accepted by the other students (whose ages span the critical years from early to late adolescence). As a parent, you may feel it’s important for the protection of your children to set up guidelines and limits they perhaps would not exercise themselves, for example, getting home before a certain hour from visiting friends or attending sporting and social events.
Even when you discuss things like curfews openly with your children, this does not mean they won’t complain about it, even when a final decision is an agreed-upon compromise. Parents need to trust they and the children can healthily survive the times of complaining and limit-testing. Parents may need to remind children caringly that there very good reasons, having to do with their valuing the children, for the limits and controls that are set. Show children the limit-setting is a clear and well-reasoned decision, not something inconsiderate, or just a display of parental power. I say this because some parents put limits on children without much reflection and without looking at the children’s side of the situation. Parents may act somewhat thoughtlessly here because they may be caught up in the familiar sense of needing to protect their children, as if the children were still four or five years younger, or as if one set of rules would appropriately fit all the siblings.
Other parents may set limits for reasons having to do with the parents’ own psychological needs, for example, parents who like to be totally in control, or parents who like to regulate their household with a kind of rigorous military discipline and orderliness. Some parents are so fearful of anyone criticizing their children, since it seems at the same time to be a criticism of their “good parenting,” that they cannot allow their children much flexibility or normal risk-taking. But even these issues may be talked through and discussed with adolescent children. Admit you’re more comfortable when you are in clear control or that you prefer your family to be above reproach, but don’t demand that your children live up to your preferences.
Showing your feeling and being open with children evokes their trust, and self-esteem grows.
Self-Esteem Principle: In order for threatened children to experience trust, they need to know that showing how one really feels is acceptable.