We all want our family to be the best it can be. We want to be able to enjoy spending time with our partner and our kids. To make this happen, our family really needs to be a team. And just like any team, it takes work. To turn your family into a family team, you need to build trust and have clear expectations.
With trust, we are able to believe what each family member says and know that what they say they will do will get done. With clear expectations, we know exactly what we are being asked to do and what we are asking of others.
Having clear expectations also plays a part in building trust within the family. Without clear expectations, the family can’t trust that everyone knows what is expected of them on a day-to-day basis.
For our children, the ultimate goal is to prepare them to be self-sufficient, responsible adults. By allowing them to experiment with trust and expectations in a safe environment, under our guidance, we are helping them do just that.
Trust can be a tricky thing. Once lost, it’s really hard to get it back. Trust is also the foundation of a good relationship. If we do not show our children what a healthy amount of trust is or how to maintain it, then they will have a hard time building good relationships as an adult.
When building trust you must do what you say.
By allowing our children to be children and test things out how only children can, we are helping them understand this. So what does this mean in real life and how do we actually do this? Well, it means that we need to pay attention to what we say to our kids.
When we say we are going to do something, we need to follow through and do it. Kids fighting over a toy in the back seat of the car? If you say they need to stop fighting or you’ll pull over and take the toy away until they can work it out and they don’t stop fighting … well, you need to pull over and take the toy.
When they are able to work out their issue, then they can have the toy back. Did you tell your child that you’d take them to the park when you finished with work? If so, then you need to take them to the park when you finish with work.
My girls learned early on that I mean what I say because I make an effort to always follow through. It also makes me really think about what I say before I say it and not just yell out something in the heat of the moment when they are misbehaving.
I have to take a moment to think, “Is that something I really want to follow through with?” Sometimes that moment is just enough for me to calm down enough and see what the real issue is behind their misbehavior and respond with a more loving and productive response.
This doesn’t mean you can’t ever change your mind once you say something. There are times when I realized what I said wasn’t the best thing or was said in the heat of the moment and didn’t really fit the situation. When this happens, I’m honest with my girls. I tell them that after further thought I realized I’d made a mistake or that I’d changed my mind. Granted this was rare and still is, but it does happen.
When it does, it helps my girls understand that I’m human and make mistakes too. It also shows them that it’s okay to make mistakes and to own up to them when you make them. By doing this, I hope they’ve learned that I always try to be honest and stand behind my words and actions.
Building trust involves monitoring our expectations.
Trust and expectations go hand in hand really, at least when it comes to kids and their behavior. As all kids do, they push against their boundaries and test them all the time. During this process, they also push against our expectations of them. My girls made this abundantly clear when both of them snuck treats when they were three or four.
They know that sugary foods are not something we eat every day though we always seem to have them in the house. We’ve explained that most things, sugary foods included, are fine in moderation but can cause problems when overindulged in. Thankfully the sneakiness of a three- or four-year-old isn’t hard to see through, and I discovered the sneaking each time.
I talked with them about our expectations that they would not take treats if we did not decide it was time for treats and that I had to be able to trust them to abide by this rule, otherwise we wouldn’t be able to have treats in the house at all until I could.
This let them know how trust, or lack of trust, can change things. It also showed them that most of the time the truth comes out regardless, so it’s better to just be honest from the start. When my oldest was five, she decided to try again and snuck some cookies.
This time, though, her conscious got the better of her, and she told me about it before I found out. I told her I really appreciated her honesty, and because she was truthful with me, I gave her another cookie.
It’s been about seven years since this happened, but my daughter still remembers I valued her telling me the truth, even after doing something she knew she wasn’t supposed to do.
It made such an impact on her that she’s brought it up a few times since and even told her younger sister about it. “Tell mom the truth. Even if you’ve done something wrong. One time I snuck a cookie even though I knew I wasn’t supposed to, but because I told Mom about it and apologized, she gave me another one.”
Communication is at the heart of building trust.
My daughters wouldn’t have understood why they were getting in trouble for sneaking treats if we wouldn’t have shared our expectations around eating treats. Without clear expectations and clear rules/boundaries, kids won’t understand why they’re getting in trouble when they do something they shouldn’t or don’t do something they should.
To have clear expectations, we need to have good communication skills. Just like trust, good communication skills to make our expectations clear are a foundational aspect for any relationship.
When our expectations change, even if they’ve just changed for the day, my husband and I let our girls know and tell them the reason why, whether due to a school meeting that requires me to be gone during dinner preparation and so more help is needed or a work deadline is quickly approaching and our plans for the day need to be altered so I am able to meet it.
By talking openly as a family about our expectations, we’re able to build trust amongst ourselves and make our family team stronger. You can do the same with your family. In the process, we’ll also be helping our children learn some of the skills they’ll need to be successful later in life.
Just remember that trust and expectations go both ways. Just as you need to be able to trust your partner and your children and expect certain things from them, they also need to be able to trust you and expect certain things from you. If you put in the time building trust and creating clear expectations, you’ll be doing the necessary work to build a stronger family team.
Carolyn is a writer, proofreader, and editor. She has a background in wildlife management but pivoted to writing and editing when she became a mother. In her "free time" she is a 4th Dan (degree) Kukkiwon certified black belt in Taekwondo, loves learning to craft from her enormously talented children, and then teaching what she's learned to her enormously talented grandmother. Read full bio >>