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Helping Children Develop Trust

How children can learn that they do not have to go through life alone.

Key points

  • Parents should be role models for developing trusting relationships.
  • Whenever possible, children should be given repeated opportunities to show responsible behavior.
  • Children feel empowered when their parents have a strong, positive, and active presence in their lives.

It’s difficult to go through life feeling alone, and children especially need to feel they’ve got the support of family and friends as they navigate their way from childhood to adulthood. Without trust, children can be surrounded by friends and family and yet seem lonely and lost. You can help your child develop trust—both in you and in themselves—by first learning to be trusting. As a parent, be a role model for development of a trusting relationship by doing your best to keep your word.

Whenever possible, give your child repeated opportunities to show responsible behavior. When the child does something wrong, explore the reasons for their actions, and invite your child’s opinion regarding how they can do better. This is a tacit acknowledgment that the child is a separate, important person with their own feelings, opinions and needs.

When you find opportunities, remind your children that they possess inner wisdom, and that they can trust in their own abilities to calm themselves, make good choices, and achieve goals that are important to them.

When children falter and are struggling, they need extra support, to have confidence that their family will stand by them and guide them. When a child is in crisis, this isn’t always an easy thing to convey, or to do. Sometimes you have to get creative or put in some extra time to make it work. Consider doing something outside the bounds of your regular routine with your child, like camping or taking a class together or participating in a community event.

In my practice, I often offer patients food, soda or tea to show them they are important to me outside the bounds of the formal doctor/patient relationship, and to symbolically nourish them in addition to providing them with medical care. This gesture is one that builds trust because it helps children understand that I care about them.

J. Amphon/Shutterstock
Source: J. Amphon/Shutterstock

One of my favorite metaphors for the care a clinician, teacher or parent can provide came about during a visit with a young teenager. Trevor had been struggling with anxiety and depression and chronic health problems for years, but had found very little help available to him. Even as he was learning hypnosis, Trevor doubted himself and his ability to find a healthy new normal. We discussed this at length in his sessions, and I told him I was confident he was getting better, and added, “I’ll believe in you until you’re strong enough to believe in yourself.”

He looked puzzled, then sad.

“I don’t think it works that way,” he said.

In the moment, a new metaphor presented itself, an idea and an image I hoped he could associate with the perception of steady improvement.

“When you break a bone,” I asked, “how does a cast help?”

“It protects the bone,” he answered, an unspoken obviously implied in his tone.

“Yes, but how exactly does the bone heal?”

Trevor thought about this a moment before responding. “The body heals it.”

"So . . . what does the cast do?”

“It helps the bone stay in place.”

“That’s exactly right,” I nodded. “For now, I will act as your cast. I’ll stabilize you until your mind heals itself.”

At this, Trevor gave me a wide and genuine smile, a rare gift from a child who’d been feeling adrift for such a long time.

“I like that,” he said.

“I like it, too. And I’m looking forward to it.”

Those few moments gave Trevor an idea he could hold, one that trusted in his inner power, one that reassured him he was not alone, one that subtly implied his body and his doctor and the universe would all work in concert to help him get better. This was hypnosis in its simplest form—planting of an idea that would grow and bloom and offer a child a way to first visualize and then realize a world in which he felt well.

If a child in your life is in crisis, this is something you can offer and on which you can follow-through. Be the support. Your efforts can be many-faceted, encompassing supporting your child in recognizing a problem, in learning to view it as separate from who they are, in coming up with a plan to make life better, and in creating and following-through on changes and new routines that make that possible.

Your child will feel empowered to know that your strong, active presence is a steady, positive force—and that they don’t have to go it alone.

This post is an excerpt from my book, Changing Children's Lives with Hypnosis: A Journey to the Center.

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