Trust Your Children More; Teach Them Less

Trust more The more stories I hear from parents, the more I know that to trust our children’s capabilities and detours is the path to connected relationships and success. But to trust a child goes against our standards of good parenting. They have to trust us. It doesn’t go the other way.

Yet who are we to know what our children should do with their lives; who are we to know what they need in order to get there? Our job is to remove the obstacles in their way of reaching their potential and accept and support who they are so they will have a firm foundation on which to launch into their futures.

A parent in my group put trust to the test. Her son didn’t like to read. He figured out a loophole in the school’s point system for reading. If he performed poorly, he would be put in the achievement bracket that required fewer points to get by. “He basically was reading See Spot Run books,” his mother told us. Her husband, who does not read, was furious and kept on him to no avail. She supported his decisions and left the process up to the school, although she did share her own experience of pleasure from reading. Allowing him to fail and trusting his reading capability, she maintained connection. With her trust, he discovered Harry Potter and everything changed.

When my daughter was little she begged to play the violin for a couple of years before I found a teacher. Practice turned grueling. When we reached the point where our relationship was at risk, I allowed her to stop. A year later, of her own accord, she took it up again. At thirteen she bought herself a $1700 violin. Today she is a professional composer. Who knew?

When we support and trust who our children are and know it is not up to us to find their gifts and talents, we learn that all they need is self-confidence to find their way.

Children resist with all their might when they think we are against them—when we criticize, blame, threaten, lecture—when they don’t trust that we understand and accept them. To find their way, they need to trust us to trust them.

Our fears get in the way

We parent by the misconception that our job is to teach our children how to act and perform in the world, and if they don’t do it right (according to whom?) then they must be forced with some kind of manipulative, punitive tactic to get them on track. What track? Whose track? What if your child is meant to establish a new track or a track you don’t approve of? What if it’s a track that public schools don’t teach?

We are fraught with the anxiety of parenting fearing our children will fail unless we teach them….What? How did you like your parents telling you what to do and when to do it? Did you ever think, They’re clueless, they don’t understand me, they don’t trust me?

What children need from us

Our children need our guidance and leadership. They need us to keep them safe and to make the big decisions they cannot be expected to make—to know that they should not be expected to act like a grown-up to know better, to understand tooth decay, to want to do their homework, to hurry to get out the door in the morning.

We must trust that they want to be successful, that they want to please us, the most important people in their lives. They want to learn; they want to find their paths. It’s when we get in their way with our own agendas, our critical tones, and our disapproving eyes that they come to the conclusion there is nothing out there for them and that the most important people in their lives can’t be trusted.

Guidance and leadership does not mean engaging in power struggles to prove our rightness and put down their arguments. It does not mean punishing them, taking away their favorite things, isolating or grounding them—making them feel miserable and thinking that will motivate them to do better. Our intentions are well-placed; the methods we use to motivate are misguided and wrong. They send our children in the direction we most fear. They leave our children floundering in a world of unpredictability where they turn to their peers for guidance and leadership.

Practice trusting. Start by simply listening and truly hearing what they are trying to tell you, even and especially when you don’t like the noise they are making.


12 thoughts on “Trust Your Children More; Teach Them Less

  1. I wish you had been in my life along time ago, maybe I would have gotten more right.

    1. Pamela – I’m sure you did better than you think. We are our own worst enemies.

  2. I have a 10 year old child with a strong willed temperament. I try not to engage in power struggles as this just escalates the problem. Morning times are horrendous as she likes to get up when it suits her. Despite discussing her views on how we might problem solve together we have come to a stalemate as her idea is to let me sleep in. How do I trust that she will be ready on time if I leave it to her. Any ideas would be extremely welcomed. Much thanks Belinda

    1. Belinda – The problem solving process does not end until both of you can agree on the solution. If sleeping in does not work for you, say so and keep trying to come up with something you can both agree on. Is she telling you with her comment, that she wants you off her back in the morning? Is she reacting to nagging? Ask her if you can trust her to be ready on time if you put your focus on other things and not her? Are you willing to let her fail at being ready on time? Really, what’s the harm if she doesn’t do it on her own and learns something important in the process. You have to be willing to let her learn to take care of certain things on her own terms. I say, let her try and give her several shots at it before reevaluating. – See more at:

  3. Hallo Bonnie,
    Are any of your books available as audiobooks?
    Thank you for posting these amazing insights into parenting.

    1. I don’t know enough about this situation to comment but if he keeps running away, it means he’s not ready to be left alone in the house so don’t give him the opportunity until you know he will be okay. If he’s old enough to be left alone and he runs away, there are some much deeper issues to be addressed.

  4. My son wants a new phone but he keeps on getting bad grades because of his old phone , should i trust him about studying and get him the new phone ?

    1. Do you know his grades are because of his phone? If you tell him that, he will not listen. He may be using his phone instead of working but that is a very different matter. You can trust that his phone may be too much of a temptation for him to put aside to do what he doesn’t want to do. You need to let him know that you understand that school is not fun, that he doesn’t want to do his homework, etc. You can ask him when he wants to do his work and say that you will help in whatever way he needs and that one way is to hold his phone for him since it gets in his way. All this can be done with NO blame. You hold that “Of course he would rather text on his phone than do homework.” Then you are in a better head to help him with his problem. You trust that he wants to do the right thing, that he wants to have good grades but too many distractions are in his way. Giving him a new phone should have nothing to do with his grades. It what he does with his phone and when he uses it that is the issue to be addressed.

  5. Do you think that trust goes beyond this? For example, sleepovers. Do you believe that trust should apply to sleepovers? Don’t you need to trust your kid if you’re sending them to someone’s house? I only ask because almost none of my friends can’t have sleepovers and I can’t find out why. Is it because they don’t trust their kid, my family, or simply don’t want their kids out of their house? We have very similar standards because we are the same religion, but why can’t they trust me and my family enough to allow sleepovers? I also recently found out that one of my friend’s moms allows their younger girls to have sleepovers (8 & 11), but not her 14 year old. I haven’t seen any reason that she shouldn’t trust her 14 year old. She hasn’t been to a sleepover outside of her family, so, she hasn’t shown that she would misbehave or not speak up if something bad was happening.

    1. This is a good question, Ashley. Many parents today seem afraid and untrusting of the world if their kids are not in their presence – very different from the way things used to be. I think it has a lot to do with the state of the world and what the media puts in our face day after day. We have lost trust of the other people and the world in general. From the sound of this question, you are a kid wanting your friends for sleepovers. I do think kids should have sleepovers with their friends. If your friends mom lets her young kids have sleepovers, but not her 14 yo, there is definitely a reason. It may even be a punishment for something in the past or unrelated (something I do not endorse). I think that by not trusting the world in general we are teaching our children not to trust and have created an epidemic of anxious kids. Ashley, how old are you and how did you come to my website?

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