Many parents or colleagues who struggle with children and adolescents ask how I am able to see progress when I work with these ages. I always tell them I start with trust. So that is what I’m going to focus on today. Many of the clients that I see in the office struggle with trust. All too often in the beginning I hear “I will never trust anyone again,” or “I don’t know if I can trust anyone again.” Or worse, “I have trust issues” or “I don’t trust myself…” If not those, I hear from the caregivers “I don’t trust him/her” or “I would like them to earn their trust back…” One of my favorite roles as a counselor is helping clients and their families build trust in themselves, their families and their communities. This is a tough task, but it can be done!

The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines trust as “a belief that someone or something is reliable, good, honest, effective, etc.” In High School, my Aunt told us that we needed to earn her trust. Her husband, my Uncle, told me that trust was not a matter one particular thing, it was our character, how we chose to live each day, and it had to be consistent. I remember the example he used with my cousin. He stated “You can’t just come home on time once, you have to meet curfew every night in order for her to trust that you’ll be home by curfew.” This has stuck with me over the years, that it’s hard to “fake” trust – one has to follow through with what they say, and it’s something that has to be repeated time and time again, and earned over time.

I view trust as a bank account. As we encounter positive moments we are depositing into the trust account. On the other hand, when we mess up – big or small – we are withdrawing from our trust accounts, sometimes small amounts, other times by larger amounts. Furthermore, the loved ones in our lives deposit or withdrawal moments of trust into our lives depending on the day to day situations that arise. I truly believe that trust is built in small increments or small moments. Sure, grand gestures don’t hurt, but our bank accounts are meant to grow over time. I frequently share a quote with the guardians of the clients in my office “Trust is built when someone is vulnerable and not taken advantage of.” (Bob Vanourek). I follow it up with, our children learn to trust adults in their lives when they can be vulnerable AND safe. Are you, as a parent/guardian providing opportunities where your children/adolescents feel safe and supported?

When working with clients, I start by teaching clients how to trust themselves. If we cannot trust ourselves, how can we expect others to trust us? Self trust also leads to self love. If you find yourself struggling with trust, you should examine how you treat yourself. We cannot ask for something that we do not believe we are worthy of receiving.

When families struggle with trust, I love using Brene Brown’s acronym BRAVING.  She has a great way of explaining trust and I love walking families through each one of these finding ways in their lives that each one applies.

  • B – Boundaries
    • One must be clear about boundaries, showing that it is important to respect those with not only yourself but other people.
  • R – Reliability
    • One must do what they say they are going to do, over and over again.  Someone gains others’ trust by being consistent and honest.
  • A – Accountability
    • If one makes a mistake, own it, apologize for it and make amends. Everyone makes mistakes, showing honesty and transparency helps build trust.
  • V – Vault
    • Can information be stored safely?  What someone shares with you, will you hold in confidence? By keeping information safe,  that is saying to others:  I respect your story and others stories.
  • I – Integrity
    • Saying to yourself, “I must stand in a place of integrity and challenge others to do that too” is something important to tell yourself. It’s vital to choose courage over comfort, what’s right over what’s easy, and practice what you preach…but to also encourage others to do that as well.
  • N – Non-Judgement
    • Can someone fall apart in front of me, and not be judged?
  • G -Generosity
    • We must assume the most generous thing about others words, or actions or behaviors.  It’s important to be in a place where you do not assume the worst of someone.

Knowing all these different ways to build trust, do we take advantage of building trust with our friends, families and co-workers?  Reply below, what are the hardest ones for you to do?

Thank you for TRUSTING me with your families in 2015.  Blessings to you in the new year!

Jennie Wilson is a child and adolescent therapist. She holds the credentials of a Licensed Professional Counselor, National Certified Counselor and a Registered Play Therapist-Supervisor.