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Communicating with Kids Series – How Do I Form Trust and Build Relationships with My Children?

January 17th, 2019     By Boys Town Contributor

Child Development, Communicating with Children, Communicating with Kids, Connecting with Kids, Connecting with Teens, Parent-Child Relationships

Communicating with Kids is a seven-part series on how parents can better communicate with children of all ages. Each month we pose a specific question about communication to a variety of our Boys Town experts; from the Boys Town Center for Behavioral HealthSM to the Boys Town Common Sense Parenting® program and many who serve the Boys Town National Hotline®.

Part 4

Because it’s important for every child to have an adult to talk with, when it comes to building relationships and forming trust between a child and an adult, what tips do you have to cultivate that relationship?

K-3rd Grade

Building meaningful relationships with children is based on time, trust and mutual respect. Sometimes it can be challenging to cultivate relationships with some children because personalities play a part in who will or will not connect easily. You can, however, consistently build understanding, empathy and convey genuine care with kids by simply noticing them, acknowledging their efforts and using praise for good behavior.

Bridget Barnes, Director, Boys Town's Common Sense Parenting

4th-8th Grade

Adults are often too quick to jump in with answers, to try to solve problems and to give advice to kids. But we get farther faster if we can be patient, listen and validate the child’s feelings and let them do the talking. A good approach to building relationships is to let silence provide an opportunity or a platform for kids to express themselves. So, instead of jumping in to try to solve problems, give children an opportunity to make mistakes that they can learn from with your help.

Another good way to build rapport is to discover and talk about common interests like music, sports, books or other subjects or activities you both might be interested in.

Finally, it’s important to be genuine and authentic. Sometimes we want to put on our adult hat when really what kids want and need is somebody to be authentic with them. They are pretty good at spotting somebody who’s not being genuine and that can really hinder your relationship.

Julie Almquist, Manager, Boys Town Behavioral Health Clinic

9th-12th Grade (Teens)

A teen needs someone to listen and show genuine concern. It is easy for parents to get stuck in the instructing and teaching modes. It’s important to slow down and listen. As your child gets older, they will want to bounce ideas off of you, ask questions or vent about something. Engage in active listening by dropping everything to talk, giving eye contact and nodding your head. You might need to provide empathy, prompt with questions to help your teen practice problem solving or even share how a decision you made in the past affected a situation.

Be honest and be yourself. A key element in any healthy relationship is honesty. Do not try to be someone you are not just to connect with a teen. You can be different but still connect. Share something about yourself. Give your child honest answers even if it’s not what they want to hear.

Be consistent. If you allow your kids to not do their chores one day but then lecture or remove privileges from them for the same behavior the next day, they will not know what to expect from you. Consistency makes how you relate with teens more predictable which makes them feel more secure with you.

Guide without judgment. Questions like “What can you do next time so that does not happen again?” or “How do you think you will handle this next week?” instead of “Why did you do such a dumb thing?” allow teens to think through how they need to act next time. Part of being a teenager is making mistakes. Guide, but also love kids through all of it. You can do this by teaching and helping with problem solving skills. A teen does not have the life experience or fully developed brain yet that’s helpful in making good judgments.

Julie Bloomindale, Boys Town National Hotline Supervisor


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