Consistency and predictability. That is what we strive to provide as parents. As a licensed clinical social worker, these are some of the qualities that I ask about when assessing the levels of function/dysfunction in a family. As best we can, we help our children learn that what we said was valid and solid and true – through their relationships with us, they’re developing trust. And hopefully, we have decent track records at being relatively reliable and worthy of trust.
A Trusting Relationship
Our kids rely on us to tell them how the world works. If we say, “Today is Monday,” it’s Monday. If we say, “There’s no school this Monday because it is Memorial Day,” even though Mondays are school days, they trust us.
We also strive to do as we say and say what we mean. For example, if you say, “I will pick you up when your event is over,” we do in fact show up on time, sober, and attentive (and apologize for the out-of-the-ordinary times you are late). We provide food when they are hungry, care for them when they are ill, remind them when they have dance, soccer, art, or scouts after school. We prove that our word is reliable, that plans are for following through. What we don’t do is promise them a vacation to a water park and then not make it happen, or tell them we planned a birthday party and then failed to deliver.
Enter: Unpredictability of 2020
Unfortunately, 2020 has presented many challenges for us in this parenting skill. Vacations, parties, camps have all been canceled or modified from our original expectations this year. Our families are receiving updates pertaining to school protocols and start dates, emails that swim lessons will resume, and information that soccer teams will scrimmage. Then, either right before it happens or days into the new plan, we are required, for safety reasons, to stay home. Again.
The Effects of All This Change on Our Kids
Unintentionally, in this age of Covid, our children are slowly learning that just because someone tells us something is going to happen, just because they hear it on the news and spoken by all the adults in their lives, doesn’t mean it’s going to happen. It still may disappear. They are learning to not get vested, to not count on things being predictable. For some kids, that may even be shifting into them actually expectating disappointment, changes, and unpredictability. The CDC, state and local governments, and school district board members and administration are trying to make decisions that will keep us safe, but in the process, they are eroding our kids’ relationship with trust.
If you have children in your lives, you have witnessed the disappointment, the confusion, the futile arguments, and the heartbreak over canceled classes, parties, seasons, and events. That was explained to us, and we explained it to them – it’s necessary to flatten curves, to save lives. We experienced this fully this past spring. Now, as we enter Winter 2020-2021, we witness more and more repeated letdowns. We continue to circle dates in our calendars and then are told to kick the can to a new date, over and over. We parents understand this is a unique and necessary intervention. Our kids only know that June became September became 2021, and they can list several events that had been planned by adults only to be canceled.
How Do We Teach Kids to Trust?
So how do we teach trust to our children? How do we model believing other’s promises, relying on guarantees, and vesting in vows? How can we help them be confident and secure that others will do what they say they will do when in 2020 we have been repeatedly saying “I hope so, but…” as in “I hope school can resume in January, but [we warn] we don’t know what will change between now and then”?
The solution is simple: Make sure your kids continue to trust you and other adults that love, guide, and have a personal relationship with them. (These are the people we adults trust most as well.) Be reliably honest in your parenting. Continue to tell them we just don’t know yet. You will continue to be consistent and predictable, even if the world is not.
Looking for help with parenting in this high-stress time? A therapist can be an excellent resource. To find one in your area who can support you in your role as a parent, click here to search near you and use the filter “Parenting” under Common Specialities > “All other issues.”
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