Did you know that building trust and setting boundaries improve family relationships?
When Cindy and I were first married, I would sometimes open her mail or look in her purse for keys—that is, until she set me straight: no rifling.
I felt we did not need boundaries between us, so it never occurred to me that she wouldn’t appreciate my actions.
Cindy felt that boundaries and asking for permission are a part of mutual respect.
After consideration, I agree that her approach is correct. Even though we share lots of things and certainly the same living space, there are times and places where an invitation or permission are required to maintain trust.
Just because someone doesn’t speak up when they don’t like what you are doing, it doesn’t mean they are fine with it.
In fact, because we don’t want to make anyone uncomfortable, especially ourselves, we tend to let things go.
In order to build trust and establish boundaries, if there are things that bother you—or your kids—and no one’s talking about it, here are some tips:
- As I wrote in 10 Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids, first, notice how other members of your family interact. If they are gentler, kinder, and use permission and courtesy where you don’t, it might be time to adjust.
- Second, pay attention to their reactions. If you are attentive, you’ll notice when they don’t like something.
- Third, occasionally ask them to tell you if you do things that don’t work for them. Let them know you want to hear about it—no matter how small—if they are in any way irritated or frustrated or put off by what you do or say. You may be able to identify some mistakes you are making just by thinking about it and noticing—others you’ll need to be told.
Respecting each other’s boundaries is a powerful way to demonstrate respect for your kids, too. That means:
- Not looking over someone’s shoulder to see what’s on their screen
- Not entering a closed bedroom without permission
- Not searching through drawers or backpacks or pursues
- Not opening mail that is addressed to someone else
- Not interrupting someone without permission or acknowledging the interruption
- Not listening in on a conversation without being asked
- Not posting images of others without their approval
- Not entering someone’s room without knocking—even if the door is open
Sometimes parents rifle through their kids’ stuff with the intention of protecting them from themselves. But respecting boundaries also means giving kids room to make mistakes so they can learn from them.
“Overprotective parents send the message that their children can’t handle life’s challenges on their own,” writes author Doug Hewitt, in his Practical Guide to Weekend Parenting.
“This can lead to a lack of self-confidence…. They may feel that if their parents don’t trust them with the freedom to make mistakes and solve problems on their own, then they may not have the ability to succeed in life without the continued guidance of their parents.”
Building trust and setting boundaries improve family relationships and this is an essential part of any healthy relationship.
Traditionally we’ve said things like: You have to earn my trust. Or, I’ll trust you until…. In other words, trust is difficult to get and easy to lose.
That is simply not helpful in any relationship—especially with your kids. And if your kids catch you snooping through their stuff, you might find you’ve lost their trust.
As soon as trust becomes a question mark, the quality of your conversations will disintegrate. That is why building trust and setting boundaries improve family relationships.
Your kids will stop being themselves at their best—carefree and full of expression. The only powerful perspective is to trust them from the beginning and keep trusting even when they make mistakes.
I understand that sometimes you might be upset or trying to get through to someone, so you use dramatic language like “I can’t trust you.” It’s far better to be specific about what happened and what you want to happen in the future.
It doesn’t work for me when you don’t do what you say you will do.
I need you to respond to my text messages, even just briefly, so I know you receive them.
Trust is a loaded word, so if you want to use it with your kids, this is the best way:
I trust you completely. Both of us will make mistakes, but I will always trust you.
Most of the mistakes we make with kids don’t seem like mistakes, and certainly it’s not our intention to upset them.
We look over their shoulders not because we don’t trust them, but because we are interested. We tease them because we love them, not because we want to make fun of them.
We post pictures because we are proud of them, not because we want to embarrass them. It’s wise to remember that good intentions don’t make up for bad impact—and they get to decide what is bad impact, not us.
So go gently and graciously out there, and trust will be less fragile.
“Good judgment comes from experience, and often experience comes from bad judgment.”
—Rita Mae Brown, American author
Paul Axtell is an author, speaker, and corporate trainer. He is the author of two multi-award-winning books: Meetings Matter and the recently released second edition of 10 Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids (winner of several awards including The Parent Teacher Choice Award from HowtoLearn.com
The first edition of 10 Powerful Things to Say to Your Kids was translated into six languages. Paul has also developed a training series, Being Remarkable, which is designed to be led by managers or HR specialists.
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