Healthy, supportive relationships are built on trust. Trust is the belief in someone or something’s ability, strength, truth or reliability.
Trust in a relationship takes time to build and requires both people actively work to maintain it. It’s also a two-way street: you place your trust in another individual and ask that they place their trust in you.
For a parent and child, trust is a foundation that benefits both people:
- For kids and teens, knowing their parents trust them can deepen their sense of safety in the world, support their self-esteem and confidence as they try new things, and assure them they have someone to go to when things don’t go according to plan.
- For parents and caregivers, having a trusting relationship with your child means you’re more likely to have an open dialogue and a strong relationship. Trust can lead to upfront conversations where you can be your child’s sounding board or support system, instead of your child catching you off-guard through lies or going around your back.
So how do you begin building a trusting relationship in a family? And what do you do when trust is broken, and you need to regain trust between a parent and a teenager?
Here are some tips for building trust that parents and teens can use to create supportive relationships:
Tips for Parents: Ways to Build Trust with a Teen
Ask open-ended questions.
When talking with your kid or teen, ask open-ended questions that encourage them to add their thoughts and how they’re feeling. By doing this, you’ll begin establishing an open dialogue with your child where they know you’re interested in what they have to say and there is space for them to share when they’re ready.
Give specific encouragement.
Encourage these open conversations and deepen your teen’s trust by pointing to specific things in the conversation and sharing how you might feel or experience some of these things too. Validate their feelings and how their sharing is important to you (“I feel sad like that, too, sometimes. In fact, last week, I felt like that when [event happened]. I appreciate you being so open with me”) and encourage them to describe their plans and feelings (“So what do you think you’ll do next when it comes to [topic]?”).
Show your child that you’re trustworthy, too (and recognize when you make a mistake).
Remember, trust is a two-way street. Modeling behavior is one of the biggest influences a parent has in the life of a child. Be an accountable partner in a trusting relationship by doing what you’ll say you’ll do and being honest about your own thoughts, feelings and mistakes. When you go against your word, be upfront and tell your teen about it, share that you recognize the consequences, and apologize if needed. An example might be: “I know what you shared with me the other day was private. It was on my mind today and I told your grandma without thinking, which wasn’t fair to you. I wanted to let you know and I’m sorry – next time I will be more thoughtful about what I share, because it’s really important to me that I honor what you’d like to keep private.”
Give your teen opportunities to be independent.
Parents often worry about decisions their child will make in the world, but a trusting and supportive relationship can’t be one that’s under lock and key. Give your teenager chances to be independent and feel the trust you’ve bestowed in them. If there’s a specific thing you’re worried about – like your teen being sexually active with their significant other or starting social media accounts without your knowledge – address that specific worry with your teen, talk through scenarios and how they would act, and above all let them know you’re there to support them. After all…
In good times and bad, be on their team.
As a parent or caregiver, a key to building trust with kids or teens is to always be on their team, no matter what. Even if it’s a tough issue, you’ll work it out together. When your teen knows you’re on their team, they’re more likely to share choices and decisions before making them. But even if they don’t, they’re more likely to come to you afterward. Being on your teen’s team doesn’t mean there are no consequences for bad decisions, but it does mean that you’re in a trusting parent-and-child relationship that doesn’t change when circumstances shift.
Tips for Teens: Ways to Build Trust with a Parent
Tell your parent what you need.
To establish a trusting relationship with your parent, let them know what you need from them, especially when it comes to having open conversations. Sometimes your parent may not realize they’re doing something that makes you self-conscious or worried about talking to them. This may be something like: “[Mom/Dad/Caregiver], I want to be able to tell you about some things I’m thinking about. But I worry about how you’ll react. Whenever I bring up [topic] you gasp or interrupt me, which makes me shut down. Can we figure out a way for me to share things without you reacting right away, then we talk it out? I want to be able to talk with you openly.”
Strive to be honest.
One of the biggest things teens can do to earn their parents’ trust is to be honest with them. By being honest with them, you give them a peek into your world so that they have a general understanding of how you’re doing, when you’re doing great and when you might need their help. There will be times you slip up or make a mistake, and in those instances it’s best to be upfront and honest with your parent. Lying or omitting things is a quick way to break someone’s trust, and even more so when parents find out from someone who isn’t you.
Tell them how much their trust is important to you.
Parents are not mind-readers and many spend a lot of time worrying about their kids and the decisions they make. When your parent places their trust in you to stay at home by yourself, spend time with a significant other, or use technology like social media, tell your parent what this means to you. This might be: “[Mom/Dad/Caregiver], I just wanted to say thank you for letting me [activity]. I know it’s not easy for you to do, but I really loved feeling independent and it means a lot to me that you trust me.”
How to rebuild trust with your teenager (or your parent)
In most relationships, there are times when trust is tested. Rules are broken, mistakes are made and feelings are hurt. During the teenage years, parents and teens may find navigating trust tricky as teens feel ready to be more independent.
If a parent or teen breaks the trust in their relationship, here are some considerations as you work to regain trust:
Talk it out.
Lean back into that open dialogue and discuss what happened, how both of you feel about it, consequences, etc.
Know that regaining trust takes time and consistency.
Sometimes, you’re going back to square one on building trust. By showing consistently your commitment to getting back to a trusting, supportive relationship, you’ll slowly get there – but it’ll take time for the other person to trust you again. Keep trying and stay consistent.
Give chances but reaffirm boundaries and consequences.
Going from a trusting relationship with freedom to a non-trusting relationship with lots of rules or restrictions, hostile treatment, etc. can make a bad situation worse. Give the person who broke your trust opportunities to be successful in regaining it but remind them of boundaries and consequences.
Spend quality time together.
While regaining trust between a parent and teen takes time, one of the best ways to heal after trust is broken is spending time together doing something you both enjoy. Take a pause from navigating the situation and emotions, and dedicate some time to having fun together.
Building trust with your child is a two-way street that will help create a mutually beneficial supportive relationship.