How To Re-Earn Your Child’s Trust–after Divorce
“I don’t want to go!!!”
What’s a parent to do when they hear this? For tips on how to get to the bottom of a child’s resistance to parenting time (with you or their other parent), see What if My Child Fights Parenting Time.
If you are the parent hearing this, the hurt goes deep. Even deeper if you realize your child truly doesn’t want to see you.
Often, the root of her resistance is broken trust. When people don’t trust each other, they don’t want to spend time together.
But, there’s hope. Key steps rebuild the trust. When parents work to rebuild trust, children stop resisting and start looking forward to time together.
What makes trust such a big deal?
Trust forms the foundation of all relationships. Even casual ones.
If I hand the cashier at the grocery $3.00 for milk, I’m trusting she’s actually selling milk, not poison. If I stop trusting the cashier’s integrity, I stop shopping there. All relationships depend on trust.
At the root of most divorces lies lost trust. An affair. A focus on work that left the other spouse hanging. A slow but steady pattern of neglect. All these undermine a spouses ability to trust each other.
The same patterns that undermined marital trust can also undermine a child’s trust. When a child loses faith in his parent, he no longer wants to spend time with them.
How do I rebuild the trust?
The only path back to a relationship is to purposely focus on rebuilding trust. There are no perfect words to persuade a child to trust. There are no grand gestures that automatically instill trust. You rebuild trust with steady, concrete actions that prove over time that he can count on you to care for him.
Some proven steps include:
- When your child is speaking, put down everything else and listen. Nothing connects like undivided attention. When your child shares a story or a problem, the last thing she wants is for Mom or Dad to look at their phone or focus on cooking dinner. This communicates, “Your story isn’t worth my attention.” Which translates, “You aren’t worth my attention.” When given full focus, children feel valued. Value instills trust.
- Sit beside children to talk. Looming over a child makes her feel intimidated. Not very trust-inducing. Sitting side-by-side says, “We are in this together.”
- Keep teasing or sarcasm out of the conversation. Teasing and sarcasm devalue others. No one wants to talk if they are only going to be devalued. Less interaction means less willingness to spend time with you. Even when correcting a child, focus on being respectful and affirming. As you do, he learns he can trust you to care for him.
- Engage in their activities. “Mom, can I show you something?” When you hear this question, say yes. No matter how inconvenient. Children know parents are busy. When parents take time to show interest, that sacrifice builds trust. Go to children’s games, cheer at their concerts, and invite their friends to the house to play. Every time you engage with your child around her priorities, she becomes more willing to spend time with you.
- When conflict strikes—remain calm. In one scene of the movie, Night at the Museum, the character Teddy Roosevelt finds the main character and a monkey slapping each other. To stop the slap-fest, he asks, “Lawrence! Who’s evolved?” Sometimes, parents have to ask themselves a similar question. When children start pushing buttons, parents might ask, “Who’s the adult?” As you set an example of how to address a problem while still treating the other person well, you teach your child how to work through problems well. More, children trust a parent who takes charge, shows care, and finds a solution.
- Follow through on commitments. Parents working to win back their children often promise the moon. But, big promises don’t rebuild trust–even when kept. And, nothing tears down trust like broken promises. Before promising, consider financial costs, timing, and your ability to follow through. Only make the promises that you can keep—then keep them.
- Honor the other parent. Even if you have a great reason to dislike the other parent, sharing that with your child only pushes your child away. Children naturally defend their parents. If you attack his other parent, you become the enemy. While he may come to see the faults of the other parent—he will still see you as an enemy. If you instead affirm the other parent, he comes to trust that his affection for the other parent will be honored. Children want to spend time with people who care about what they care about—which includes the other parent.
As you intentionally follow these steps to rebuild trust, you will find your child not only willing but looking forward to spending time with you. If you would like assistance rebuilding trust with your children, call 317-344-9740 or email info@TheResolutionCenterIndy.com. We look forward to serving you.