Research tells us that a secure attachment is the best possible foundation for healthy development. A healthy connection between parent and child is essential for proper growth and leads to better emotional health, better childhood and adult relationships, less anxiety, increased empathy, greater creativity, and a better ability to cope with the ups and downs of life.
Without trust, we cannot be truly connected.
Before a secure attachment can form or remain, your child must trust you. Once a child feels assured that their needs will be met by their caregiver, their brain is ready to learn. They then free to explore his world. However, without trust and a secure attachment, learning is hindered because the focus is on getting his primary needs met.
It’s important to note that you can foster trust and connect with a child of any age. While it is best to begin in infancy, it’s never too late to start. It’s also important to note that sometimes mistakes are made and trust gets damaged or broken, but that repair is possible.
The point is, no matter where you are, there is hope for building trust. Let’s look at how to build trust with your child through each stage of childhood.
How to build trust with your infant
Infants are learning about trust from the very beginning. You are shaping their view of the world, and by consistently meeting your infant’s basic needs for food, love and affection, you are teaching them to trust.
Get to know your infant’s cues and respond to them promptly. Feed them at the first hunger cues, and as you feed them, talk softly and make eye contact. Smile, talk and interact frequently with your baby. Give your infant plenty of hugs, kisses, snuggles and skin-to-skin contact.
Importantly, try to respond promptly to your baby’s cries. This doesn’t mean that trust will be broken if you don’t jump out of the shower with shampoo still in your hair at the first hint of a whimper. It just means that, over the course of infancy, your baby learns to count on you to feed them when they’re hungry, change them when they’re wet, and comfort them when they cry.
How to build trust with your toddler or preschooler
Toddlerhood is the period in which children develop a sense of self-awareness. In addition to consistently meeting your child’s needs, you can build trust by allowing them to explore their environment safely. Your toddler is now beginning to understand that they are independent and separate from others, and will need you to be their “home base” as they explore.
A securely attached toddler will be able to explore independently but will look to you to make sure they are safe and that you are close by. They will need to run to you when they feel anxious or excited.
Trust is also built by keeping your promises and being honest with your child. If you say you’ll read them two stories tomorrow night or take them out for ice cream later, keep your word—because you want them to keep their word with you later. This is the foundation of that important component of trust, being able to believe in and rely upon what our loved ones say.
Trust is also built through being present and an active listener. In an age of parenting with constantly beeping and buzzing phones and other devices and distractions, we must be cognizant of giving our kids appropriate attention. Take the time to give your toddler or preschooler your full attention when they talk about things that are important to them, even if it’s dinosaurs or the cat’s fluffy tail.
Remember, if we listen to them when they’re little, they’ll keep talking when they’re big.
How to build trust with your tween
Middle childhood is a stage of enormous growth and change. This is the time when peers start to have a more significant influence, and your child is gaining independence and understanding more about their place in the world.
Because of the added influence of peers, it is essential to maintain that heart-to-heart connection with your child so you are still the primary influence. Connect by telling your child stories from your childhood. This will not only help them get to know you better but will also show an understanding of the things they are facing—because you once faced them, too.
Sometimes, children in the latter stage of middle-childhood may seem to pull away or isolate themselves in their own little worlds, and so you’ll have to make the extra effort to stay connected. By showing interest in the things that interest them— “entering their world” by playing video games together or watching their favorite YouTuber with them—will build those feelings of trust and security.
Allowing your tween space to grow their identity and not hovering too much is a great way to show trust and respect as they grow. For the younger age group in this stage, playing together is still important for building bonds.
Because peer relationships are important, and children this age are concerned with how they are perceived and accepted socially, it’s best to not correct your child in front of their peers or to purposefully embarrass them as a “joke.” Building trust also involves keeping confidences, and being someone your child can safely talk to. Children need someone they can trust, and you want that person to be you!
How to build trust with your teen
They may stand taller than you and look all grown up, but their brain development is still underway. This will continue until their mid-twenties! This season requires a delicate balance of holding on and letting go, and communication in this stage is critical.
Keep an open line of communication and don’t be too quick to criticize, offer judgment or jump to conclusions.
Convey trust in your teen.
Letting them know that you have faith in their choices and abilities will boost self-esteem and build trust between you. This is a stage in which showing that you trust your child helps them to have more trust in you.
Finally, respect their feelings and opinions and try not to downplay their concerns. Many things feel like a huge deal in the mind of a teen, and while it may seem small in your adult mind which is filled with serious concerns, trust is built in the moments when your teen can safely share with you and be vulnerable.
If the foundation of trust is laid in the early years, it will be much easier to build on it as the years go by. If you need to start late, simply start where you are. Store up a lot of grace—for yourself and for your child. When breaks happen, repair them as soon as possible, and if trust is broken, seek to mend it. It will always be the responsibility of the parent to initiate repair and reconnection. The more mature mind must reach out first and lead the way.