Trusting that we can find the balance with trusting, a key to allowing our children to learn naturally.

by Beverley Paine

"Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple - or more difficult.
Difficult, because to trust children we must trust ourselves -
and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted."

John Holt
On my Unschool Australia Facebook support group the question of finding a balance between trusting our children's choices and our instinct to protect them from what we perceive as potential harm, especially for activities we feel are inherently harmful in some way is very difficult and takes time to cultivate. We need to patient and kind with ourselves and fall prey to feeling guilty, over-react and thus risk swinging from one end of the trust continuum to the other. This question often comes up in discussions around multimedia: television, computer and video games, and more recently phone applications. Funnily enough it rarely comes up when children obsessively play musical instruments or compulsively build model boats... 

My initial response was to advice the parent concerned to "talk, talk, talk." Talk about your fears openly and honestly and without coercion. I honestly feel that our children respond positively (even if they show some annoyance occasionally because we're overreacting and interrupting their play). Conversation and discussion are the main ways humans learn from each other. When we talk to our children we're not just talking, we're transmitting ideas and knowledge and values and attitudes but most of all we're building relationships. Talk to your children openly and honestly and you'll be right. They'll let you know if you are going overboard, they'll put you in your place, they'll reassure you, etc. 

Other parents on the group reassured that this current obsession with this novel game will pass, just like all the other obsessions and fads they've enjoyed. Just like all our childhood fads and obsessions passed... Other things soon came into our lives and fascinated us and took our attention. Children are hungry learners: growing demands it! Especially if life is full and busy and includes a variety of meaningful activities enjoyed together with people who care and take an interest in life and what is happening. 

Children are born trusting and little by little we help them become cautious and wary. It's too easy to extinguish that spark of trust that builds a sense of hope and love and is essential for healthy development. We need to be cautious about how we trample on our children's precious innate and natural trust. Fostering curiosity and interest and building supportive environments is our main work. Protecting our children is important too. Challenging our perceptions and beliefs, being open to learning and change, and allowing our children to guide us when making decisions around trust all help. 

Most of us have lost our sense of trust - we're in recovery mode! That makes it hard to parent our children, especially if we're coming to this idea of trust later in their childhood. It's easier to learn to trust in our babies ability to learn naturally: the challenges usually set in around the toddler years when they start to assert their growing sense of self-identity. We need to recognise that most of our problems with trust stem from a lack of trust in ourselves. We are insecure and unsure of our actions, thoughts and beliefs. We need a lot of reassurance. And these traits are those that we want to avoid our children to avoid when they become adults. Understanding this can help keep us on track: stay open to finding ways of building on the trust that already exists within your family. Work on it actively. Hunt down the source of your insecurities, own them, and then gently and gradually learn to let them go. 

The more we learn to trust the easier it gets. And trust is infectious. We can learn from our children how to trust us and as we improve in our ability to trust we help reinforce their ability to continue to trust. Living in trust offers incredible security and confidence in our abilities and sense of self. That promotes growth and healthy development. Confidence grows. It is easier to compromise and cooperate. Relationships are enhanced. Whatever effort we put into trust repays us enormously. And trust in self repels external pressure to be and do things that are not right or integral to our sense of self or values and makes us stronger, both as individuals and within relationships and communities.

At the same time though we need to acknowledge and do what is comfortable for ourselves or we risk swinging like pendulums and end up causing stress in both our lives and our children's. That's why I suggest we keep talking to our children about what we feel and our worries, let them know the inner workings of our minds, tell them about our limitations and why we think we are the way we are, apologise for what we perceive as faults and tell them about the work we are doing to overcome our limitations. Show them that we're not perfect people, that being perfect people isn't the aim of growing up, that learning is life long, ongoing, challenging and awesome. I have no regrets because I am a learner: I make mistakes and I stuff up life with my children every day but because I learn from them and they can see that we are all empowered and we all grow. And that's the best I can do.

So, if I don't trust myself or my children today, if I err on the side of caution or paranoia or get caught up in my own fear and project that onto others, all I can really do is forgive myself, share my insights, be honest, frank, open and apologise and ask for forgiveness. It's a dance, a wonderful relationship dance, with lots of give and take when we focus on building trust everyday. Our children know this. Our children are immensely forgiving. It's okay to be human. It's okay to be learning this trust thing alongside our children.

Ultimately we have values and attitudes we hold dear to ourselves: there is every chance our children will latch onto these values and attitudes and cherish them as we do. There is just as much chance they won't. That's one thing I've learned as a homeschooling / unschooling parent. Our children belong to their own time and culture, to their own hearts and needs. There are things we worry about that won't worry them at all.

Bottom line for me was safety: is my child in immediate danger? If the answer was yes, then I intervened. If no, I would assess the situation as to the potential danger. Should I encourage the child to consider options or distract the child? Often I would be observant and supervise but not intervene. Often I would talk through my worries and concerns. Sometimes I would foresee a problem for me and manipulate the environment so it wouldn't happen. My aim was to create a low stress learning environment for all of us. Did I do well? Was I an okay mum? My children seem to think so. But I wasn't perfect, I made huge mistakes, I still don't trust as completely as I'd love to, but that's okay.


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