Trust is one of the most important characteristics of a successful relationship or partnership. That extends to the relationship between parent and child. How often has your child asked you to do something and your nervousness or lack of support related to something related to your lack of trust in them?
My wife and I converted this concept into both a parenting tool and a piece of valuable vocabulary we used with our three daughters as they grew up.
Imagine a meter, like the fuel gauge for your car. It can run low, high or anywhere in between. Now imagine that instead of measuring the available fuel for your car it represents the level of trust you have in your child at a given point in time.
As our children made good decisions, including difficult ones or ones with potential negative consequences, and generally did things to instill our trust over time, their trust meter would be running on high. But if they made a bad decision, the trust meter went down – not just any bad decision, because lots can be learned from bad decisions, but rather bad decisions that justified a loss of trust. Something they clearly knew was wrong or had risk of serious negative implications.
What was interesting about our trust meter is that it took multiple positive decisions/actions and a good amount of time to build to a high level. But a single bad decision/action could reduce the trust meter all the way to very low. Then a slow build back to medium and, hopefully again, high or very high.
Implications of Meter Level
When the trust meter was running high or very high with one of our daughters, it meant their requests to do things were much easier to support. But when the trust meter was running low or very low, we either had to think much harder about the same requests or the answer was an obvious and quick “no”.
Not a Secret
We did not disguise where the trust meter was running while responding to one of our daughter’s requests to do something. We might say something like “Sure, your trust meter is running high and we hope you have a lot of fun” or “Sorry, your trust meter is currently running low and we aren’t able to let you do that, but we look forward to you progressively boosting your trust meter so that we can support this sort of thing in the future.”
The goal of this tool is surely not a surprise. We wanted our daughters to think about the decisions they made and actions they took, in context of our later judgment. If just for a second, the trust meter concept would enter their brain as the thought about the various possible outcomes of their decisions/actions, we had accomplished our objective.
This parenting tool is greatly complemented by the “What’s the Worst Thing That Can Happen” tool.