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April 13, 2024

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Stay Cool When Your Kid Breaks the Trust

When trust gets broken, it's YOU who has to do the heavy lifting to get the relationship back on track.

Ah, the joys and miseries of getting your kids through the prickly middle school years. For parents, it’s like picking through a thorny rose garden without getting scratched. Middle and high school kids can be moody and erratic. They can start taking risks without realizing they are doing it, and some kids will lose their parent’s trust. When trust gets broken, the parent/child relationship is shaken to the very core. But there is a way back, and it starts with you.

Getting back to trusting your child again takes two, but YOU have to remember: We ALL make mistakes. Try to look at the situation through the prism of the teenage brain.

“Kids are beginning to experience the power of creativity and courage,” says Renee Chambers, a pastoral counselor with Michael Loftis Family Counseling in Murfreesboro. Realizing this can help you keep your cool.

Trust Foundation

The trust relationship with your child starts from an early age. Hopefully you laid down a healthy foundation of trust when your child was little, Chambers says. When your child breaks that trust, he will want it back and worry that he’s the reason for your disappointment. He will not know how to get your relationship back on track, so you’ll have to lead the way. If you’ve had a good relationship up until this point, your kid will come to you with his mistake.

“An important part of the parent/teen relationship is love and safety,” says Chambers. When your kid knows you are in his corner no matter what, he will bring his mistakes to you … but only if he feels it is safe to do so. “Does your teen know he can approach you with a mistake he has made, receive a consequence and believe you aren’t going to yell at him or shame him?,” Chambers asks.

If so, move forward with your kid by emphasizing how important good choice making is. Emphasize trustworthiness, not his mistakes. If you can get your child to speak honestly to you and with some remorse, you’re on the right track.

Remember these points about your teenager:

• The teenage brain makes him a risk-taker

• It’s best for both of you if you manage your anger

• It’s OK for you to be frank about your disappointment

• Set consequences that are “fair” in line with the breach of trust

• Give your kid a path to redemption

• Clarify your expectations

• Keep a positive dialogue going

• Make the rewards of being trustworthy clear

Source: The Self-Aware Parent by Fran Walfish

When Parents Are Deceived

When parents are deceived, it’s heartbreaking. Say you catch your child in a situation that shatters your trust. You feel enraged, duped and betrayed. Now what? How do you go forward without flying off the handle?

Well, you probably don’t. You probably will fly off the handle, because you’re human, experts say. But if you can control your anger, it will be best for your relationship. There’s also something even more powerful you can do: Apologize. It’s a powerful thing to model, says Katie Herrington, Ph.D., a Nashville-based child and adolescent psychologist.

“You can say, ‘I apologize for flying off the handle, because I was scared. The decision that you made to be dishonest with me led to a situation where you could have been hurt,” Herrington says.

Calmly tell your child there are consequences for his mistakes — and follow through on them.

“When your child has lost your trust, it takes time to gain that back. The more that a child proves he can be trusted again, the more that you can begin to trust again,” Chambers says. “I strongly believe communication, love and a safe place to talk through the exciting, yet challenging, years is most important.”


About the Author

Susan Swindell Day, Editor

Susan Swindell Day is the editor in chief of Nashville Parent and the mom of four amazing kids.