Focus on Trust to Encourage Your Child’s Potential


How do you think your kids experience you? Do they expect loving, positive attention  and trust or criticism and judgement? Or no attention at all until they cause a problem? Watch yourself and see what they respond to.

Whenever you yell, threaten, punish, or use that blaming tone that turns your child “parent deaf”, you are teaching your children that they are a problem—because you see them as a problem. What you want is the problem to end, but what you are focusing on—what your child is doing wrong—makes the problem worse.

What you want to grow is your child’s capability.

So trust your child’s capability to overcome problems. This requires a mindset shift and understanding what trust really means. Your trust is needed 24/7, especially if your child is behaving in untrustworthy ways.

It’s not about trusting behavior or even your child’s current motivations. It’s about trusting who your child is and that he wants to do things right. The fact that things are going wrong can be corrected by your change in focus.

Focus on what you want to grow in your child, not what you don’t want.

  • Tell your child what to do instead of all the Don’ts. Instead of “Watch out you’re going to fall!” try, “Watch your feet. Pay attention to where your feet are. Easy does it, slow down. Put your foot on this step next.” Or “You want to jump from a pretty high place. Look carefully and think. If you think you can do it, I’ll be right here.”washing dishes
  • Use motivation instead of threats. Instead of “You’re not going anywhere until you empty the dishwasher”, try “As soon as the dishwasher is emptied, I’ll be happy to take you to practice. I’ll be in the living room. Come get me when you’re done.”
  • Look for their capabilities. “Look how you can climb into your highchair. You have great balance and know how to do it.” “It sounds to me like you were sticking up for your friend and that’s what got you in trouble. I love that you had your friend’s back and didn’t abandon her.” “That was a very hard thing to do, and you stuck with it all the way.” Keep your praise and acknowledgment descriptive and focused on the take-away. “I see how you gave your sister the crayon she was asking for. I bet you know that if you do something nice for her, she’s more likely to do something nice for you.” Instead of good job giving her the crayon.
  • Think of your focus as a flashlight. What are you going to shine it on? Doesn’t it make sense to shine it on positive attributes and qualities, so your child is encouraged and sees his potential? Let’s say your child wants to do something you don’t have time for. Typical reaction: “No, we can’t go to the park now. Stop asking me. I’m not changing my mind. Stop whining. Stop.” Your focus is on your child being a problem.

But “I know you can figure this out, you know why? Because you know what you want, and you’re determined to get it. Let’s think about how we can make this work. I can’t go now, but when do you think it might work for both of us?”

Mindful Focus puts attention on qualities and attributes.

Praise and rewards put focus on accomplishments produced, which depends on a successful accomplishment. 

Praise like “good job”:

  • leads to pressure, perfectionism. 
  • is designed to get children to do what you want.
  • mindful focus sees the whole child so you can trust your child’s lead and guide them in the direction best for them.

Find the positive attribute of difficult behavior.

A demanding child is arguing for what she wants. Instead of criticizing her with your impatience, try, “You are such a determined person. Even though I said no, you are persisting in asking for it hoping I might change my mind. That tells me you are always going to go after what you want in life. What a good quality to have. And I’m still saying no to more tv. See I’m determined too!” 

When your child doesn’t want to leave the house, instead of impatiently telling her you have to go, try, “You really wish you could stay home, and you are doing your very best to tell me that. I hear you. Thank you for telling me. We do have to go. Let’s think of something that might make going easier. Can you think of a game we can play in the car? You’re so good at spotting things. We could play an I spy game.”

Intrinsic Vs. Extrinsic Motivation

If you want things easier for you right now, use extrinsic motivation—the carrot or the stick, the reward or punishment, sticker charts, more computer time, gold stars, money for grades or withdrawing privileges, time out, threats. These are all coercive tactics to get what you want now. Kids grow dependent on external rewards or threats to tell them what is right and wrong. They tend to flounder when the carrot or stick is not present. This keeps parents using extrinsic motivators.

successIf you want to teach for a lifetime, use intrinsic motivation. This requires trust in the child to do the right thing because you know he wants to. Keep your focus on how your child feels and thinks about something, what his opinions are. Respect that even when you don’t agree. 

None of these guarantees calm and cooperation, but even through arguments and meltdowns, your child hears where your focus is. Make sure it nourishes rather than depletes.

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