Trust is tricky. We may think it is something that should come naturally because we are adults who have already navigated the rough waters of adolescence, relationships, marriage and now parenthood. Trust is something that we can take for granted and we often don’t think it through very logically.
In management, trust is nearly always predicated on past performance. An employee trusts a boss based on whether he or she has been honest and done what has been promised. A boss trusts an employee for the very same reasons, and over time they develop a trust relationship, or as Sean Covey refers to it in “7 Habits of Highly Effective Teens,” an “Emotional Bank Account.”
When we fulfill our promises or live up to expectations, we make a deposit and those grow over time into a balance that factors in when circumstances require “benefit of the doubt.” It works equally to our detriment when we do not fulfill our promises, etc., taking withdrawals from that account and causing a low trust balance that can actually work to our disadvantage in situations where credibility is part of the equation.
How does this apply to you and your children?
It applies in both ways, my friends. You might think that the only deposits are due on their side of the banking system but that is not true.
You are equally a debtor in this relationship and broken promises and unfulfilled expectations will come back to haunt you in ways you cannot predict.
It helped tremendously to share the “Emotional Bank Account” concept as soon as we thought our children could understand. We explained how to earn trust, and how good feelings toward another person can be earned through gifts of service, kind things said and done, and most importantly by keeping their promises and fulfilling their responsibilities. The opposite was just as true. It was amazing how quickly they understood and gave us a common language that could be used to express gratitude, disappointment and the logical consequences of trust betrayed.
Divorced or distant parents can often fail to build these Emotional Bank Accounts. The effects pile up gradually and eat away at the relationship, but often the real repercussions don’t show until adolescence or adulthood.
What can you do to change those outcomes?
Your children need to know that they are loved and need to be disciplined with logical rules and boundaries so they feel safe. They need to know that adults are aware and paying attention to what they are doing and that they are a priority in your life. Trust will come with that over time. If you give a child the opportunity to make choices through their lives, reinforce the good ones, and even more importantly, reinforce the logic they used to reach them, you will end up with adults who can make good decisions without you.
And isn’t that the ultimate goal?
Dr. Stephen Covey says that “the most difficult parenting years are the early twenties,” and if you have not taught your children how to make good decisions on their own and moved into a mentor role by that time, you have done them and yourself a terrible disservice.” I totally agree.
So how do we start?
Let’s say you have a three and five-year-old, how do you teach them to make good choices? Well, give them some, to begin with. Easy ones like choosing between two outfits, or two choices for lunch or two activities. Keep it to two for quite a while and when you have time, ask them why they chose the one they did. The answers can be illuminating and amusing!
You are beginning to train a critical thinker. Over time, make those choices a bit more complex. Ex: Yes, they can go swimming, but if they do, they will need to take care of this chore before they go or promise to do it when they return. If they break the promise, there will be no more swimming the next day.
As they get older and closer to teen years you will find that asking things to be done now does not work. Instead, try saying, “I expect this chore to be done by dinner time and if it is not, this is the consequence.” Choice, consequences, and trust – all in one sentence!
It sounds simple, but like most good parenting, it isn’t. It requires planning and thinking ahead and thinking like the COO you are. Keep an eye out for those teaching moments, catch them doing something right, and thank them when they make a sincere and unplanned deposit in the emotional bank account.
Yes, they will try to play you. Get ready for it.
“Gee, Mommy, if I rub your shoulders will that put something in the Emotional Bank Account?”
“No; not if you are doing it for that reason.”
“This is not a “do something to get something” kind of game and capitalism is not the catchword of the day. If it isn’t heartfelt and sincere, it doesn’t count, even though it is very nice. It is simply manipulative and that is something that we don’t really reward in this house.” Get the distinction?
Hold on to it, because they will get more clever over time!