Whether you are integrating a new partner, having family visit or introducing new people to your child, here is a useful guide in how adults can build trust with children.
Generally as parents we teach our children to not trust strangers, so don’t think it’s a bad thing if your child doesn’t embrace a new person immediately, even if you have an established relationship with them, keep in mind your child does not. The new person needs to earn your child’s trust and this will not be achieved through forcing physical contact, such as hugging the new person, as this is seen as an invasion of their personal space and result in the child feeling more uncomfortable.
The best method is to show the child you yourself have trust in this person and a good relationship. Children are experts on identifying your feelings, so if you are tense, so will they be. You can help the new person to build trust in the child by asking them to not focus too much on the child. Children need extra time to simply observe the new person and your interaction with them and will slowly gravitate to seeking approval of the new person only once their confidence has been built. This may not happen on the first, third or tenth meeting, it is more when the child has fully assessed the new person and their gut instincts. Don’t be disheartened if it takes a while, you have done well to ensure your child has a good grounding in safety and risk assessment, essentially for living long and full lives.
The new person can initiate a connection, through kindly, soft spoken language and brief opportunities of enticing play, such as offering a sticker or offering to engage in an activity the child would enjoy such as drawing or football, but only briefly. This shows the child the new person is respects their boundaries.
Routine is important too, so subsequent meetings should start and finish with the same routine, for example the new person may say “Hello Mate” to the child and this should be consistent each time. Positive predicable behavior for the child, again builds trust.
As parents, you can excite the child by building up the meeting in advance, such as ‘yay, we are seeing [new person] on Saturday, I can’t wait!’ This again results in excitement and anticipation for the child that reinforces the positive emotions associated with the new person.
If your child genuinely does not like the new person, that is ok. As adults we do not like everyone we meet, but have learnt to treat people respectfully whether we like them or not. Children may not be able to communicate why they dislike a person, so don’t ask, as it may push your child further away from an explanation. Instead you can talk about what you like and dislike in other people, and link some of the positive likes to the new person. For example ‘Uncle Billy likes playing football with you, [new person] likes playing football with you, I like my friends to play football with you.’
Building trust takes time, starts with a soft approach of no expectations and is lead by the child not the parent. At Robina First Early Learning Centre, we build trust with children by talking calmly, bending down to be the same height as them and listening to their needs. We invite children to join in activities aligned to their interests but never force and always treat children with dignity and respect.
Personally, in every contact with children, I use their name, so they know I know them. I also make a point of knowing their current interests, their sibling’s names and their parent’s names. I also never touch children unless they approach me to hug them or hold their hand and on these occasions I reinforce positive predictable behavior such as complementing their outfit or shoes.
In building trust with children, remember you are teaching them skills that will help them later in life too, so never over-ride your child’s instincts or make them feel they ought to like someone. Children are never fake in who they like or dislike and require a lot of time to form their judgment and these days it pays to be cautious, so never rush your child and help the new person to realize it may take a while for the child’s trust to be earnt.