How to rebuild Trust with your teen or young adult child
There are things we can’t undo, like picking the petals off a daisy or burning the cookies. Done is done.
And there are things we can fix: punctured bicycle tires, ripped jeans and many relationship rifts.
When trust has been broken with your young adult child, it’s not so much that you rebuild it – it’s more a question of creating a new foundation and building up from there. ~ Being deceived by your kid is painful. You feel disappointed and it threatens to crush your heart. And then you get mad. How dare they lie to me? Maybe you’re a bit vengeful… Who does he think he is? I’ll show him. And you’re confused. What did I do to lose their trust? How did it come to this? Perhaps all the times you’ve been deceived in your life flash before your eyes and you fall into a sense of victimhood. Or maybe you feel like a damn fool and slink away. You might detach, close your heart a little and become a little frosty. You might become suspicious of everything they say. Or go even farther and start following them, reading their texts and double-checking their story. You’re human - of course you have a reaction. And it’s natural to want to protect yourself from the pain of being deceived again. So, notice your reactivity and deal with what’s coming up for you before responding to your kid. Take a walk, do some stretching or talk to a friend.
Then, when you’re grounded and ready to move forward with your kid:
~Start with the foundation. What do you already trust in the relationship? Trust is contextual so take the time to identify the circumstances in which you trust them, like keeping appointments, driving safely, expressing their emotions, doing their laundry, being sociable to your friends, managing their money, etc. Be specific. Really - make a list.
~Clarify your building plans. What exactly do you want to build more trust around? Do you want them to answer honestly about where they’ve been? Let you know when there's a problem at school/work? Open up about their feelings? Write these down too.
~Check the building site. In what ways might you be blocking the trust between you two? Take a closer look (self-compassionately).
If you’re asking someone to tell you the truth, you must also ask yourself, "What am I doing that makes it easy or difficult for them to do so?" When they express their honest opinions or feelings, do you
One-up them with your own issues?
Dismiss their experience?
Push your own agenda?
Give your analysis?
These responses do not build trust. They’re reactions, coming from a part of you that wants things to be different from how they are – and more acceptable to you and your comfort zone. That’s your stuff.
You contribute more to the foundation of your relationship, for example, when they say they hate their job, with a simple, "Sounds like you were miserable at work today, huh?" Then there’s some space for sharing and truth-telling.
~ Bring it into the present tense. As they recount their story, instead of trying to smooth it over or jump to solutions, ask them how they felt during those events. This is how a foundation of trust gets built over time – small, consistent invitations to share their truth.
They need to be small requests so they’re low risk and doable. When you say things like, "be more open” or “just trust me,” there’s no clear step to take and no specific time frame. But “Tell me what happened next” and “What upset you then?” invites honesty and trust right there in the moment. That’s something your kid can do.
~Envision the new structure. What would it look like if connection and trust were being built between you? Imagine scenarios in which you’re feeling trust in your relationship. What would be happening? What exactly would you be saying or doing? How would you be feeling?
~Model trust. There’s always room for improvement. In what ways can you be more trustworthy for them in the way THEY define trust?
~Highlight trust. Think about all the ways in which you uphold the trust in your relationships. Is your child aware of them or are they things you always do behind the scenes? Can you think of ways in which you could show them more explicitly HOW to build trust? Sometimes it’s as simple as adding the language of trust, like, “This is me being honest” or “I believe what you're telling me” or “My friend and I have built a strong trust in each other.” When the opportunity presents itself, ask about their own relationships. Not so much about IF they trust their friends. The better questions are: How do you know you trust them? What does it feel like when you trust? And when you don't trust? What kind of things do they do that show you can trust them? What do you think makes you trustworthy to them? Dear one, as your kids grow into adults, and you grow alongside them, the trust between you will undergo new situations and phases and take on new shapes. Be attentive to its foundations and open to the changes both of you will bring to it.
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