Podcast: Building Trust With Kids & Adolescents
Jenn talks to Dr. Holly Peek about how to build trust in children and adolescents. Holly discusses how to establish and maintain trust with your child at different stages, shares what trust looks like and how it evolves throughout childhood, provides insight into privacy and boundaries to set with your loved ones, and answers audience questions about ways to actively strengthen your bonds with your kids and teens.
Holly S. Peek, MD, MPH, is an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the assistant medical director for the Klarman Eating Disorders Center at McLean Hospital. Dr. Peek is board certified in both adult and child and adolescent psychiatry by the American Board of Psychiatry and Neurology. She also has a private practice specializing in child, adolescent, and adult psychotherapy and medication evaluation and management.
Jenn: Welcome to Mindful Things.
The Mindful Things podcast is brought to you by the Deconstructing Stigma team at McLean Hospital. You can help us change attitudes about mental health by visiting deconstructingstigma.org. Now on to the show.
Hi folks. Good morning, good afternoon, or good evening, wherever you’re joining us from, whatever time it is there. And as I was just complaining about the weather, whatever’s happening outside for you. Thank you so much for joining us to talk about “Building Trust in Kids & Adolescents.”
I’m Jenn Kearney. I’m a digital communications manager for McLean Hospital. And I am joined today by my lovely co-host Holly Peek.
When I was preparing for this session, one of the things that I learned based on scoping out online bookstores, search engines, parenting blogs, et cetera, there is no singular handbook to actually being a successful parent. If there was, we wouldn’t have thousands of them available to us, right?
It’s because every person is different. We’re all going to make mistakes, whether we’re the parent, the kid, or sometimes we’re both.
But one trend that I noticed that carries over throughout all parenting advice is that establishing trust with your child can help you have a strong bond, even after you make mistakes, whether it’s on their part, your part, or some of both.
One of the things I also noticed is that trust is like a muscle. You can build it up slowly and over time. And as a result of that, it can be more sustainable and it can also be made in a variety of ways, not just through like those heartfelt conversations you’d see on primetime TV where everybody hugs, there’s a crescendo of violins, you know the cheesiness I’m talking about. That’s not trust all the time.
So that’s why I’m really excited it to have Holly join me today to talk about how to build trust in children and adolescents, the types of privacy and boundaries that we can set with our loved ones, whether on their behalf or our own behalf and ways that we can actively strengthen our bonds with our kids.
So before I start throwing questions her way, I want to introduce her. If you are unfamiliar with the lovely Holly Peek, Dr. Holly Peek is an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard Medical School and the assistant medical director for the Klarman Eating Disorders Center at McLean Hospital.
She also has a private practice specializing in child, adolescent, and adult psychotherapy, medication evaluation and management. So, hi Holly. Clearly, as I rattle through your biography, I’m like, gosh, she does so much in a day. And yet she’s taken some time to talk to me.
So thank you for joining. I’m always super appreciative of spending some time with you. I want to kick the conversation off just by asking, what are some of the benefits of having established trust between you and your kids regardless of how old they are?
Holly: Well, first of all, thank you for having me talking about this conversation because it’s a broad topic, but it also can carry over into a lot of different areas of childhood development and parenting.
So it’s a great topic and I think this is a good question to start with because there are so many benefits to establishing trust between parents and kids, no matter what the age, from young toddlers to young adults and beyond.
But I think the first thing that comes to my mind is a child will feel more open and comfortable talking to a parent when things are hard or when things are difficult if there’s this baseline level of trust that they feel like they can come to you when things are hard because as a parent, that’s ultimately what you want.
You want your child to be healthy and happy and make their way through life in accordance with their values and your family values. And so you want them to feel comfortable coming to you.
And the kid needs to trust that you’re not going to have a big overwhelming reaction no matter what that is, that you’re there to also be open and honest and supportive in those situations. So I think that is a big picture way in which establishing trust is really important.
I think also establishing trust in the parent-child relationship also can demonstrate healthy relationships in life, like trust can be such a cornerstone in our life relationships, romantic partners and whatnot.
And so these sort of facets of building a healthy relationship really do begin in the home and people learn those skills in the home starting at a young age. So that’s another important reason.
And I think if there’s also an established trust in the home where the kid is showing trustworthy behaviors and the parent is showing trustworthy behaviors, you’ll see your child also demonstrating these things in other areas of life too as they begin to branch out.
So demonstrating these behaviors in school, in other relationships. And again, that’s a helpful setup as they move on into adolescence and young adulthood.
And then there’s also a decreased level of stress and chaos in the home if there are some pretty concrete expectations and consequences that are clear and consistent, the rules of the game aren’t changing from day to day, because that’s kind of what can create certain levels of chaos in the home.
And a lack of trust can really break down and parenting is stressful. So we want to be able to decrease the amount of stress and chaos in the home when we can, we can’t control everything, but in the spirit of remaining consistent, I think that’s important.
And a major milestone of adolescence is, it’s like this transition to adulthood that everyone wants to see their kids navigate this time successfully. And it’s really hard. And if there’s trust in the home, an adolescent can gradually gain an increased amount of privileges and therefore get more independence.
And so it’s really kind of trust in the home is allowing your child to kind of navigate these prickly times in adolescence and successfully get to adulthood. And then finally, I think it’s just the cornerstone of maintaining health both mentally and physically, sometimes it’s unsafe both mentally and physically if there’s not trust in the home.
Jenn: I know you’ve touched a little bit upon the stress and the chaos that can be reduced when you have a trustworthy relationship. Are there any other like specific mental health benefits of having a really strong, established trust with your kids?
Holly: Yeah. I think that having a strong established trust really can demonstrate what appropriate boundaries look like and of what appropriate limit setting looks like in relationships.
So we are learning how to navigate relationships within our families that kind of carry us through to next stages of life. So I think that life is about, in some ways, like a series of relationships. And so we want to help foster healthy relationships, which can foster mental health.
If there’s trust, kids and teens can feel like they can come to you if they’re struggling and talk to you when things are hard. I mean, kids who have a hard time asking for help or talking about when things are hard, there’s often a delay in getting help and support, and they’re often left struggling with things in silence or kind of tiptoeing around things.
If they’re feeling depressed or anxious or dealing with suicidal thoughts, you want to be able to kind of have this baseline trust where the kid feels like they can come to you and get some support. Having trust in the home can also foster emotional intelligence in your kids with being honest about feelings and that there aren’t going to be big reactions around feelings and trusting in that.
So, for instance, like as a parent, like if you’re sad or if you’re mad, just naming it for what it is rather than saying, oh, it’s fine, cause maybe it’s not fine.
You don’t have to go into the nitty gritty details of why you’re mad or sad if it’s developmentally inappropriate to do so, but kind of being able to kind of name emotions and trusting that there will be support in the house, I think is a great mental health benefit.
Also, showing a kid that they’re worthy of trust, particularly when they go into adolescence can really help with self-esteem and then appropriate individuation and separation from the family give the kid some confidence that, hey, I’m a trustworthy individual and I can make healthy decisions for myself now and in the future and my support system at home trusts me to do that too.
So it can build a sense of self-esteem that I think is important. And then finally, I think having trust in the house is important for parents too. And there’s mental health benefits there, cause like I said, parenting can be stressful. It can be scary. You don’t always know the right answer. And honestly, there usually isn’t a right answer and that can be stressful.
But if there is this baseline trust that the kid is either going to come to you when they’re struggling or that you trust that they’re going to make safe and appropriate decisions or come to you when they don’t, it can kind of ease some of the worry that you might experience as a parent.
Jenn: One of the things that I can’t help but feel for parents about is that you have to constantly deal with all of these changing environments. Your kid is constantly changing, along with that, your relationship with your kid is changing, right?
So trust with an infant is establishing, I’ll always be there to feed and change you and soothe you, maybe with an elementary school kid, it’s like, I’ll always be at your soccer games or I will always do my best to be home at dinner.
It’s constantly evolving and we’re figuring it out as we go. So do you have any tips to ensure that our relationships with our kids as they evolve remain trustworthy?
Holly: Yeah. Yeah. It’s hard to ensure anything cause there’s going to be bumps along the road, at some point your kid is going to break your trust and at some point you are going to break your kid’s trust.
There’s going to be give and take there. And I think allowing room for mistakes and acknowledging when mistakes are made is key. And, just like you said, I think trust is, I see it as kind of almost building blocks and sometimes blocks get knocked down off the tower, then you have to pick it back up and put it back on.
So, like you brought up in infancy, there’s different messages you can give your kid along the way when they’re an infant that, you know, I’ll always be here and then like as a younger child.
But I think paying attention to where your child is developmentally and meeting them where they’re at, meeting their needs, but always be clear and consistent about expectations and rules in the home. You can’t change rules in the middle of the game and expect the other person to trust that you wouldn’t do that again.
And then if you do, do it because sometimes we do without even thinking about it or realize, hey, these rules need to change, owning up. Like yep, that’s what I did and this is why, this is why, and always just being clear and consistent.
And when you aren’t, talking about why that’s not the case, so that there’s a mutual understanding there. Again, how to ensure that you’re continually putting on these building blocks of trust.
I mentioned this before, being honest about your own emotions, cause the more you can be honest to yourself and others and your support system including your kids about your own emotions, the more that they along the way also will.
I think increasing privileges that the kid is getting something for demonstrating trust can help ensure that we’re going to continue to build these building blocks over time of trust.
So, for instance, a 12 year old is going to have different rules than a 17 year old. If the 17 year old has the same rules that they did when they were 12, like what are they getting out of building trust, you got to meet your kid developmentally where they’re at and gradually increase privileges and degrees of trust that you guys need to demonstrate together.
And then finally admitting when you make mistakes with this, because you’re going to do untrustworthy things too, but don’t gloss over it, say, yeah, you know what? I messed up, I’m sorry, this is what I could have done differently, this is why I did it because your kid’s going to mess up and you want them to be able to say and do the same thing and own up to it.
So being clear and consistent all along the game, I think is really important in making sure that that trust continues to grow.
Jenn: So, the other side of building trust is when trust gets broken. So what advice would you have for when our child breaks our trust?
Holly: Yeah, so it’s inevitable. No matter how old the kid is, kids are going to push boundaries, particularly when they get into adolescence and they’re going to betray trust whether it’s purposely or not.
And, you know, to get into the mind of an adolescent, sometimes you’re like, what the heck were you thinking? Like, that makes no sense.
But to kind of think physiologically, like, where they’re at developmentally, that their frontal lobe of decision making and executive functioning and managing impulses truly is not developed until age 25. Not that that’s an excuse for bad behavior because it is not.
But to kind of understand where your kid is coming from when sometimes it’s like, what the heck you were thinking, because the important thing is that when the kid violates your trust, you want to create a path back to you.
Like you’re, say you’re mad and you’re mad, you broke the trust, you want to make sure that there’s a path to get back to you. And to also rebuild this trust because it’s inevitable the trust is going to be broken and trust can’t be a one and done thing.
So what does that look like to build a path back to trust when a kid has broken it. So sometimes it could look like actually a physical contract, it could be verbal conversation contract, or it could be a physical contract, what that might look like, and involve your child in that too, depending how they are and make it appropriate.
And the path to regaining trust is going to look different depending on the offense. Sometimes it can be a conversation of like, why did you do that? What could we have done differently? What are we going to do next time?
Okay, we’re in agreement there and moving on, if it’s a dangerous offense, like getting behind the wheel after they’ve been drinking, that’s when you have to press stop and really probably sit down more thoroughly. How are we going to approach this?
And maybe never driving again is not the answer, even though that’s what you might feel like in the moment. But bring the kid into a part of this cause they might not understand, or maybe not understand as thoroughly as you do why that was such a poor choice.
And also explain, I am doing this because my job is to keep you safe and healthy and move you on to adulthood so you can have this great independence. And I try to think of things more like discipline rather than punishment, because discipline really means like to teach or learn something.
So the discipline needs to fit the crime. Maybe not the punishment needs to fit the crime, depending on the offense, not all reactions need to be the same, but having your kid or teenager particularly be a part of that conversation, I think is important.
And the kid needs to understand why it was so serious that there was a breach of trust there and why you’re concerned. And I will say, if you have a child who is repeatedly breaching your trust, either with no signs of remorse or they’re having increasingly destructive behavior no matter what you do in trying to get them to rebuild this trust, that actually may be a sign that there could be some underlying issues.
And I say underlying issues, cause that literally could be anything. It could be depression, it could be anxiety, it could be substance abuse. It could be a more serious mental illness.
And I think that’s the time to really seek some guidance and support of a therapist either for yourself and probably your kid too, because under normal developmental circumstances, it shouldn’t be a repetitive problem unless there is an underlying issue that needs to be addressed. And sometimes we need some more support around that.
Jenn: The next question I’m going to ask you is a little bit bundled up in your previous answer, but I wanted to be a little bit clearer about it.
When a teen breaks our trust, the advice would be, in terms of managing it, is a little bit different from a child. Anything else that you haven’t mentioned that we should do in terms of trying to start rebuilding that trust?
Holly: For children?
Jenn: More for teens and young adults than kids specifically.
Holly: Yeah. Yeah. I think for teens and young adults, these adolescents that are verging on adulthood, if there was some sort of breach of trust, and that’s going to range from maybe the more benign to the more, could be serious, dangerous, I think your goal is to get your adolescent into their next stage of development, which is young adulthood.
This is where they’re going to have a lot more independence and privileges and they probably won’t live with you in a lot of circumstances. So they need to have more control and understanding of their own behavior.
So, I think the more you can involve your adolescent and young adult in talking about discipline and like why this was an offense and breach of trust and how we can rebuild it and what would you do differently next time.
And give them an opportunity to show you if you feel like that they’ll be safe to do so and make sure the underlying issues are addressed. I think that that is more developmentally appropriate as you get older adolescents that you kind of involve them more.
Kids, sometimes younger kids may not know what they did was wrong or was dangerous. So that’s could actually be more of a teaching point. No, you can’t press the buttons on the oven because that gets really hot and lets the gas come out. So that’s a dangerous action, but they may have not known.
And with younger kids, you can build trust by allowing them to kind of help you with chores and things like that to show that I trust you, but these older kids, you really need to involve them in thinking out the process and how to rebuild the trust.
Jenn: So depending on the severity of what is happening. So someone wrote in asking about teens that have already begun to engage in unsafe behaviors.
Is there a tipping point into where trust can’t be reestablished or is this something that, like, if I don’t go to the gym for six months, I can go back and start walking. Is it just the baby steps of reestablishing trust or when is all hope lost?
Holly: I’d like to think that, and I’m trying to think of an instance that I would say all hope is lost. I really can’t think off the top of my head.
I will say, if a kid or teen has consistently been engaging in dangerous behaviors, the road to rebuilding trust is a longer road than maybe like one or two offenses.
And that’s when I would ask, is this consistent engagement in risky behaviors? What’s the deal? Is there something underlying this that needs to be addressed? Do I need more professional help here?
But if it it’s more, so it might be, I don’t think all hope is lost. I think if there’s an underlying issue, that can be addressed, I am not a proponent of locking a kid in a room by any means, but maybe they can’t drive their car.
Maybe they don’t get a car, a car is a privilege. It’s not an expectation that I have a car. Using cars as an example, there could be other things, but it’s going to be a longer road to get to trust, but I don’t think all hope is ever lost.
Jenn: I think one of the next steps in reestablishing trust if there’s something where there’s been like a misbehavior or an unsafe behavior, is the disciplinary part of it where it’s been reinforced that they shouldn’t do it, here’s why it’s wrong, don’t do it again.
Do you have tips for parents tuning in for, as quote, like laying down the law while also communicating that they still do unconditionally love their kids?
Holly: I think the way that you frame the discipline is important, you’re allowed to be piping hot mad, you might be mad, and you can tell your kid I’m mad and the reason that we need to address this is cause it’s my job to make sure you’re safe and healthy and I love you. And this is why this is a problem.
And making sure that this discipline is coming out of a place of concern, worry, love. I want you to come to me with anything and everything that you’re struggling with, and trust is earned and how can we rebuild this?
So I think you can say those things, you might need to count to 10 and kind of calm down before you say it if you’re particularly mad and kind of learn to regulate your own emotions around it, but being more collaborative with your teen about like, okay, how are you going to demonstrate trust?
You may agree with what they set out or not. And you might agree with a piece of it and add your two cents of what they can do and collaboratively come to that together, and the response needs to be appropriate to the offense.
Like I said, if it’s dangerous behavior, it might need to be a more longer road or more extreme path to get back your trust. But if it’s pushing limits and boundaries here and there in non-dangerous ways, some of that is part of adolescence and what they do. It’s not that it’s a non-offense.
It still needs to be talked about for the reasons that I said, it’s your job to keep them safe and healthy.
Jenn: I don’t want to gloss over the fact that you are a doctor. You have insight into things like eating habits and disordered eating. That is the core of what you do for work.
And I wanted to ask, as kids are getting older, they have more autonomy over their meals when they’re eating, how much they’re eating, who they’re eating with, whatever, how can we actually trust as parents that they’re making the right nutritional decisions for their bodies?
Holly: So I work with a lot of adolescents and young adults with eating disorders. And people with eating disorders can end up in pretty medically dangerous places secondary to a lot of their eating habits, whether food restriction or purging or excessively exercising.
And it’s scary as a parent to kind of see your child go down that path and getting to the point of near death in some instances. They might come into treatment at a higher level of care where someone else is managing it, but you can’t manage their eating for the rest of their life, you know?
And again, it becomes, how do you trust ever again that your child can start managing their own meals, go to school and actually eat, go to college and actually eat and do what they need to do to keep themselves safe and healthy.
That can be really scary when as a parent you’ve seen them go down this really dangerous path, so it’s similar to other ways of reestablishing trust. It becomes baby steps. You do got to give them a little something, kind of meet them where they’re at.
And this is why a lot of people, for instance, with eating disorders, older kids with eating disorders, we try to take the parents out of it in some ways so that they have, you know, the kid has their own dietician, their own therapist and their own doctor who is like taking weights and stuff.
And if a kid’s like, okay, I’m ready to follow a meal plan and do what I need to do with myself, you kind of got to give them, you know, if they’re safe to do so in the moment, give them some reins there. And if their weight drops that’s a sign they’re not doing what they need to do.
And so then you might need to take a little more control of their eating, what they’re doing. The ultimate goal is that they’re managing their health and wellbeing by feeding themselves, which is a basic piece of living a healthy life is the ability to feed yourself, but kind of like other forms of breaking trust, you’ve got to kind of build it back with baby steps.
And that could go for other medical conditions too. Some a lot more dangerous than others. Like I think about kids with diabetes who have to be very reliable in terms of managing their insulin. And as a parent, the thought of like leaving that to your kid’s responsibility can be terrifying because the consequences can be pretty dire if they don’t follow through.
However, they’re going to be a young adult at some point. So the goal is to get them to be more autonomous around this. So how can we give them a little more responsibility at a time with you?
Maybe checking numbers in the background, just like you would check the weights in the background with your child with eating disorder, check their glucose levels in the background. If they’re not looking good, like, hey, I have to take back the reins here a little bit until you can prove you can manage it on your own.
So kind of, like, overarching a little bit of the same in terms of some of the other discipline stuff is kind of building reasonable stepping stones that make sense to where your kid is at developmentally.
Jenn: If you weren’t going to address taking care of other medical needs, whether it’s taking something for ADHD or taking something for a chronic digestive disorder, ensuring that you know that they’re taking care of their medical needs and I’m so glad you addressed it.
My thesis and my thesis in my master’s program was actually around parents and kids transitioning to adult gastroenterology care. So like stomach and digestive disorders and figuring out where that parameter was where kids felt more ready to do it and parents were falling by the wayside thinking they didn’t think their kids could do it.
So having that knowledge of knowing where those gaps lie has been really, really interesting, but I don’t want to talk more about that. This is about trust in kids, not what I did in my master’s program.
We did have somebody write in asking about adjusting expectations regarding children with developmental disabilities or other mental health challenges.
So a good example would be if a child can’t consistently follow through with something that’s important to the parent, but it’s something that’s just not clicking for them based on what they have going on.
Holly: I think that’s a great question. And I often, often say the phrase that you got to meet the kid where they’re at, and that means like literally, wherever they’re at developmentally, maybe not chronological age, but developmental age.
Like what are their abilities and capabilities? What are your expectations in the home? And do those match?
There may be cases where those just don’t match and developmentally they can’t adhere to an expectation or a role you have in the home, but like how can you aid them or kind of help them to get there? What sort of resources can you give them?
Like reminders you can give them, the first thought that’s coming to my head is like a little off topic of this question but similar. Some kids are really good about taking their medications every day. Some kids just like, literally cannot remember.
They might want to remember but they can’t, that is not where they’re at to remember to take their medication every day. So you might, you as a parent be like, okay, the expectation is you, take your medication every day.
You might have to give it to them every day or associate it with another behavior. Or they earn something if they do XY. If you take your medications for five days straight, you get a trip to Legoland or like go get a set of Legos.
I don’t know, like whatever the kid wants, a positive reinforcement, doesn’t have to be anything extravagant, like a trip to Legoland, but maybe a small set of Legos that they can pick out at the store if they were able to show a consistent behavior for a certain amount of time that is like reasonable for them so that they have some buy in for doing it.
And how do you build upon that? So maybe like the kid demonstrated the behavior, you wanted them to show for three days, they were able to go pick out their Legos.
And it’s like, okay, well, next time, let’s try five days and you get to go to Build-A-Bear, this is younger kid examples, but whatever it might be, kind of meet them where they’re at, what are they interested in, what are they interested in earning?
And can you accommodate that in some ways that isn’t out of the question. How can you continually give them more and more independence and how can you create a system where you can check to?
So again, thinking about medications, let’s say a kid can’t be trusted with their meds, but you want them to get in the habit of taking it every day. You might have like a seven day pill box on the counter and you as a parent can say, okay, did they take their meds today?
And you can literally see if they took their meds that day, or if they actually skipped it. So the kid had the independence to go to that pill box on the kitchen counter and take it. They don’t have the whole bottle of pills in their possession, because they are not capable of that right now.
So you got to assess where is your kid at? Where do you want them to be? How can we stepping stone get them there and how can you get buy in if it’s something that you care about and they don’t necessarily care about?
Jenn: I think one of the things that’s also important that a lot of parents don’t want to, they toe the line between being really involved in their kids’ lives and almost being intrusive or helicopter parenting, because you want your kid to grow up to be independent, successful, healthy, but you also want to make sure that you’re not letting them fall by the wayside.
So what would be some ways that are helpful to check up on kids or check in on your kids without becoming a helicopter parent?
Holly: And it’s funny cause helicopter parents are doing it in the service of they love their kids, they want them to do the right things, to get them to where they need to be. But in some ways it’s also handicapping the kids in a lot of ways cause they don’t develop the confidence that they can do it themselves.
So it’s a balance. You don’t want to be an absentee parent and leave them to their devices and hope that they get there to college. No, that’s not where kids and adolescents are at. They need some support.
You don’t want to be like overly intrusive to where they don’t have their own confidence that they’re trustworthy and they can make their own decisions. I think it’s a balance between the two and every kid is different and every kid needs different levels of support.
And you might need to try out certain things like, the kid has this project for school and you see that I know that’s going to take a long time to do. And here we are two days before the project. If they don’t get that project done for school, that’s not necessarily a high stakes thing.
It’ll really stink if they don’t get it done. And they’ll be disappointed if they don’t get the grade that they want, but let them have that natural consequence.
And then maybe you can talk about it after the fact like, hey, I noticed that you waited until two days beforehand and I was wondering how you wanted to manage that and you know this happened, like, what would you do differently next time?
For some kids that might be like, oh, okay. That didn’t work out for me. I really wanted an A and I got a C, maybe I’ll start earlier next time. Other kids, that might just kind of go over their head and they’ll do the same thing the next time.
And maybe as a parent, you might want to kind of ask them about it maybe a couple days in advance. Like, oh, what about that project? Give some prompting, that might do the trick, but that might be too much for other kids who’d be like, oh my gosh, I know mom, I know dad, so you might have to kind of see who your kid is and what kind of level of support do they need.
And over time back off a little bit more and if they needed more support, kind of go forward a little bit the next time, I mean, it’s an imperfect science in a way of being a parent and there really is no right answer, but there’s pros and cons of being overly involved or not involved enough. And you want to find the sweet spot in the middle, which is going to be different for each kid.
Jenn: So one thing I did want to address is that not every parent is going to be intrusive or inquisitive or a helicopter parent air quote so to speak. Culturally, some families don’t have open communication at all. It’s very because I said so, listen to what I do or listen to what I say, et cetera.
Do you have any advice on helping build trust in families where open communication isn’t necessarily a normative behavior?
Holly: Yeah. I think it’s going to be small things to shift that, I think first and foremost, recognizing that we don’t have open communication in our house, some people might not even realize that, cause that’s not what they grew up with, or what they’re used to.
But if you start seeing that something’s not working in the dynamics of the relationship between the parent and kid, it might be something to explore, like doing X because I said so, I think that it culturally is how a lot of people do parent and like historically was how a lot more people used to parent.
And I don’t think, you know, a lot of kids turned out fine with that too. I’m not saying that it’s like wrong or you’re setting up your kid to not be successful. Cause plenty of us grew up that way because I said so, and just realizing there’s a challenge there that like, sometimes because I said so isn’t enough, it’s not a learning opportunity.
It’s like, because you said so, why, and especially teens might actually begin to ask because that’s where they are at developmentally. Like, because you said so, why, and like if the kid asks, tell them why, don’t just say, because I said so, just think of it as maybe a learning opportunity and it makes a parent kind of stop and think of it too. It’s kind of a learning and communication for both of you.
And there’s a spectrum of what works for different people. And it’s not necessarily always the wrong thing to say, because I said so, but if you say don’t drink and drive because I said so, that’s one thing, but you could say don’t drink and drive because driving under the influence, you could kill yourself and other people.
And that would be detrimental to you, to us. Like, talk about all the consequences of it, that carries a much heavier weight than don’t drink and drive because I said so, that’s a very concrete example, but that could be applied in different ways too.
Jenn: I want to address that we’ve had some folks ask questions about kids that aren’t necessarily their biological children. So adoption, foster care. What are some ways to establish trust with kids that are entering your home through adoption, foster care, et cetera?
Holly: I think, you know, complicated answer. I mean it depends, but some of the same tenants.
If you have a child entering your home, depending on the age and what their past experiences have been, or if they have been in different foster homes over time, they’ve probably had many different styles of expectations, of communication, of trust, of freedom.
They’ve probably had a taste of different things. And so it could be confusing to come into the house and be like, well, what are the expectations? So kind of being clear from the get go, like what are the expectations of this home and this family and why?
And I think that’s a helpful place to start. They may challenge that because that hasn’t been their experience in the past. Be curious with like, well, what was your experience in the past? Like how did that work for you and them? How did that not work for you and them?
If you need to swerve, maybe you need to swerve a little bit too and meet them where they’re at and that’s okay too. I mean, you can’t be rigid with any of this. You got to meet someone where they’re at.
So I just think setting expectations, being curious with the child, what were your expectations before, what helped, what didn’t, if they’re able to kind of even verbalize that, if not, I would start with, these are the expectations.
If they’re having challenges following the expectations, be curious why, but you continue to be consistent. And there are natural consequences and natural discipline for certain violations of trust and expectations. And there are certain rewards that one gets when you have more trust within the home.
So it’s some of basically the same tenants, except that you got to be very clear with what the expectations are in your home and what the other person’s expectations have been in the past.
Jenn: One of the things about expectations in the home is that sometimes if a teen is going through like a rebellious phase or the superhero invincibility phase, because their frontal cortexes aren’t fully developed, they don’t care about the consequences. So they’re living in the moment.
Do you have advice about how to respond or engage when your teen simply just doesn’t care about what may happen next?
Holly: Yeah. I mean, they may not care about what you care about, but they care about something. So what do they care about if they don’t care about what you care about?
And how can you find a way to kind of meet them to where, like, you got to follow the expectations of the house, maybe cause you don’t care, but we care and this is our family’s house.
Maybe you care about your girlfriend and seeing your girlfriend, but naturally, in order to see your girlfriend, the expectation is the curfew is 10:00 PM here because that’s what’s important to us. So do you want to see your girlfriend or not be home at 10:00 PM? Those are the choices.
So I’d just be curious about what does your kid care about? How can you tie that into expectations in the home? They might not care that like, oh, if you do this, you can’t come to dinner with us on Friday. They may be like, great. I don’t want to go to dinner with you on Friday.
But there may be other things that you can kind of tie into these teaching moments or discipline that they do care about and will listen and will follow through with expectations because they want a certain outcome.
Jenn: So, I think by getting to know your teens a little bit better that way, and as they get older, like college age students who are doing more adult behaviors like drinking and becoming more independent, living away from home, it’s important to know what they care about.
But also keep establishing some of those parental guidelines that you’re hoping that they’re heading in the right direction. Any advice for toeing that line between being friends with our kids when they’re older and still also being their parent at the same time?
Holly: Yeah, it is interesting once children enter adulthood and become adult children, you know, you’re still a parent, but your parenting, your job description of a parent is very different. Concretely your adult child can make whatever decisions they want.
Jenn: Whether you like them or not, they’re going to make that decision.
Holly: But of course you want what’s best for them. And you want to make sure that they’re going down a path that’s in accordance with what you may know as their values and in your families and their families’ morals and living up to their potential.
So, regardless of the age, you are a parent, but your role shifts from discipline, that’s done, that’s kind of out the window. It shifts from discipline to being an available support. Like if you have built trust within your relationship with your kids, hopefully they feel comfortable talking to you when things are hard.
Now that is a window for unsolicited advice, which I think is a pitfall for many parents of adult children. They may not want your advice, no matter how badly you want to give it, or you think you have something awesome to say, they may not want it.
They may just like want some validation or someone to listen to. You can listen to clues that they want some advice. I mean, big clues, they’ll ask for it. And if you guys have a pretty open dialogue, they probably will ask for it in one way or the other.
So, I think being available…support, caution, and take a step back, even when you want to give some advice.
You can share stories of your own experiences with them in ways that you might not could have when they were younger, like your own experiences in your own relationships, your own experiences with substances, if that has or hasn’t been an issue in the past.
Like, things that may have been inappropriate to talk about with a younger child are more appropriate to an adult, talk in a conversation with an adult. So if you had an experience that is similar to whatever your child was talking to you about, you can share that.
That’s a little bit different and that might toe the friend line a little bit, but it’s kind of more parental in a way, because you have life experience, you got to listen to your young adult or adult child with an open mind.
You may not agree with what they’re doing. You can say that you’re like, I don’t know. I don’t know if I agree with that, but you also got to accept it when they say, well, I’m doing this anyway. If they’re doing dangerous behaviors that might be when you might up the ante and express concern.
So, I guess I’m talking about more benign disagreements, but if they’re like going down the path of drug abuse or in a dangerous or abusive relationship, that’s when I would talk about my concerns there.
But make sure that you’re not like attacking your child as a person or their partner as a person. You can say, I don’t like it when so and so seems to comment on what you’re wearing all the time.
And I don’t know. I find that a little unsettling. Not saying, like, I don’t like so and so. You can make some comments here and there. I think that, you know, respect their privacy.
If they don’t want to talk about something, don’t press them on it. They’ll talk about it if they want to talk about it. And I think that in terms of toeing the line in friendships, you might actually end up having some common hobbies.
I mean, as teenagers, your parents are like, so uncool, but as you go into adulthood, maybe you both like books and you could have your little book club together. I mean there are ways that you can have connection in hobbies as two mutual adults that you might not have with an adult parent to a child. And that’s a way to continue to grow your relationship too.
Jenn: I don’t want to exclude the fact that some parents in the household aren’t actually parents that are taking care of the kids. It can be a grandparent or an aunt or an uncle, or even an older sibling.
The things that we’ve talked about in terms of establishing trust in kids and teens, do the same principles apply when it’s a different person that’s taking care of them?
Holly: Yeah, I think so. It doesn’t have to be a biologic parent. It could be a caregiver and a caregiver comes in so many forms. It could be an older sibling, aunt, uncle, grandparent. It’s all the same, especially when you have this dynamic of caregiver and child.
So I think a parent can take on so many different forms and these same sort of principles definitely apply.
Jenn: This one’s a little bit opinion related, but do you think that it’s helpful to have someone who isn’t necessarily their parent acknowledge that, but also say something along the lines of, I still have your best interest at heart no matter what.
Like, whether I’m your biological parent or not, I’m the person that’s taking care of you, opening up the conversation some way like that.
Holly: I’m not sure if I’m understanding the question completely, but yeah. I think it’s important, especially if there’s some sort of a challenging of authority there because you aren’t my biological parent, it’s like acknowledging like, yes, I know that.
And I still really care about you, I’m in the position to be your caregiver. And this is how things are, that you’re still in that role. And I think if that’s ignored, the kid might take that as like, you know, how come we aren’t talking about this?
So it’s part of like that open communication of dialogue and feelings that we want to encourage in these sort of relationships so I think that would be appropriate to approach a topic like that.
Jenn: And that was a very good answer to my very convoluted question, so thank you. Thank you for straightening out all of my spaghetti lines as I like to call them.
I want to end the session just by asking, do you have recommendations for resources, whether they’re books, apps, et cetera, that can help kids or teens stay on top of their responsibilities so that way it’s a little easier for parents to trust that they know what they’re doing.
Holly: Yeah. Yeah. Oh, goodness. I wish I could give you something like, I did not come prepared with specific apps or books or stuff, but you know what, if you Google some of this stuff, you got to vet certain, there are so many different parenting blogs and stuff out there now.
And actually some may be more culturally and more applicable to your situation than anything I said today, you know. You can find something out there that can be supportive on the internet because there are so many different blogs.
But you do have to take that with a grain of salt, because there might be some blogs that don’t resonate with you or don’t feel appropriate either. But different religious backgrounds, different cultural backgrounds…
I think the internet can be a vast resource to kind of start with and get recommendations from too if you find something that really resonates with you there.
Jenn: Perfect. I think that’s a great way to end the session. So, Holly, thank you so much. I know I threw some tough questions your way, but you handled them all with grace and with so much knowledge. So thank you so much for joining me.
And if you are tuning in, this actually concludes the session. So until next time, be nice to one another, but most importantly, be nice to yourself. Thank you again and have a great day.
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