Thursday, January 19, 2012


She jumps up on my lap, her ears flopping as she lays her head down in the exact spot I wanted to rest my book. She gazes into my eyes with love, and shows complete contentment. She’s stuck like glue. Gazing down at those brown eyes I have completely forgotten the "I-got-into-the-trash" incident and the "I forgot to potty outside" issue. I'm held prisoner by her sense of trust in me.  No wonder I don’t get anything done!  Who wants to get up and do laundry when you have a warm happy, trusting dog-friend on your lap! No wonder so many people love dogs:  they teach us by example the joys of trust. 

I feel certain that trust is the cornerstone of a productive, happy life.  We learn to trust (or not) during the first year of life, and then spend the rest of our lives either reinforcing or reversing that first learning. But in spite of the importance of those early experiences, developing trust is an ongoing process, and continues throughout our entire lives. 

People who are able to trust others can build supportive friendships, take reasonable risks to learn new things, and ask for help when they need it. In general, they are able to weather the storms of life and live their lives with optimism.

It seems to me that when early experiences make it harder for some people to trust others, those people may find life a little harder to navigate.  It can be harder to make and keep friends, and it can even be hard to trust yourself if you’ve developed habits of being distrustful of others.

Here are some things parents can do to help their children develop a healthy sense of trust:

-Be trustworthy.  Don’t make promises you can’t keep.  Tell them when you’re leaving rather than sneaking away, and try hard to be back when you say you will be.

-Teach by example how to trust other people.  Choose carefully the family members, friends, teachers, and others that you feel you can trust, and then demonstrate your trust in ways that your child can see it. You may trust a friend to house-sit for you, and your child can see you handing the key to them and thanking them for their help.  Don’t leave your child with ANYONE that you don’t trust, and when you do leave, tell your child, “I know Teacher Annie (or Grandma or Aunt Sally or Grandpa Joe) will take very good care of you until I get back.”

-Trust yourself.  Kids pick up on it when parents are constantly second-guessing themselves. Work on your own self-confidence, so that you can show your child what a self-confident adult looks like. 

-Trust your child.  When she is struggling to learn something new, you can say, “I know it’s hard right now, but I trust that you can keep trying, and you will be able to figure it out” When your toddler chooses to spend every day at preschool in the sandbox playing with the same truck, remind yourself to trust that the child and his developmental process is choosing the right activities at the right time to support healthy brain growth.

-Don’t place inappropriate trust in your child.  Don’t expect that your five year old will always remember to stay away from the busy street or leave the sharp knives alone.  Instead of putting this responsibility on the child, make sure you always hold his hand in the parking lot, and keep the knives locked up in a safe place. Having realistic expectations for your child helps them learn to trust themselves and gives them a sense of confidence and security.

-When someone betrays your trust, remind yourself that an overwhelming number of people in your life have proven to be worthy of your trust. Avoid over-generalizing, and don’t base your view of the world on a few undependable people.

I think it’s very important to live with a sense of gratitude.  We should let our kids hear us talking every day about the things and people that we’re thankful for. One thing near the top of my Gratitude List is my dogs, because they are my best teachers when it comes to the important life lessons of trust, living in the moment, and expressing gratitude.  When I die, I think it would be great to come back as a dog.  Well, not just any dog.  I would want to be a dog with an owner like me:  a person who always has a lap ready, and who always trusts me to be a Good Dog in spite of all evidence to the contrary!

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