Destroying a Child’s Trust in 5 Easy Steps

I'm Not Sure I Believe You

Children are naturally gullible. They will believe everything said to them, and sometimes it is fun to lead them along and see how far the deception can go.

But at what cost?

Trust is a fragile thing. Once the tender threads of trust are broken, they are not easily mended.

When I was a little girl, I honestly believed my mom knew everything. She perpetuated the belief, reminding me often when she was right about something. I thought I was the luckiest girl in the world to have such an amazing mother.

Then I discovered she wasn’t omniscient and my whole world fell apart.

If she had pretended about that, what else wasn’t true? Suddenly, everything that my mother said was suspect. I wondered if she knew anything or if it all was a lie.

My trust was broken.

An Example From Fiction

Terri Blackstock writes about this idea in Distortion.

[Zach] lost control of his emotions, and tears ran down his face. “Dad was a good man. He would never do what you said. They murdered him. How come now he’s the bad guy?”

“I know it’s complicated, baby. I’m sure there’s a reasonable explanation for all of it. But right now, the FBI is investigating, and they’ve told me that if I don’t help, I could be implicated.”

“What does that mean?”

“It means that I could wind up going to jail for whatever your dad was suspected of doing. They would think I was doing it too.”

Zach backed against the wall. “Mom, he wouldn’t lie to us. I know he wouldn’t. He was a truth-teller. He taught us not to lie.”

How could she explain that his father had lied anyway? That he’d had another family . . . a secret life? “Honey, there are things that have come out. Things he wasn’t honest about. The people who killed him said that he had something of theirs. Something he was hiding from them.”

Zach’s struggle to understand the dark secrets of his father’s life reflects a truth many children face daily. How can they trust a parent who has let them down?

Destroying a child’s trust is easy.

How to Destroy a Child’s Trust in 5 Easy Steps

1. Be Inconsistent

Nothing keeps a child on his toes like never knowing what his parent is going to do or how the parent will respond. It’s difficult for a child, or anyone, to understand when the same situation can cause polar opposite reactions.

2. Break Promises

When a child nags about wanting to do something, it is easy to make a promise. But keeping that promise can be difficult, if the words were said just to get the child to stop asking. Children have much longer memories than we want to think and feel the betrayal of a broken promise keenly.

3. Be a Hypocrite

We want our kids to tell the truth, share, and be kind. What happens when they hear us remind them of this over an over, while at the same time living by a different set of rules for ourselves? “Do as I say, not as I do” doesn’t work.

4. Lie

As I mentioned before, children believe everything and it is somewhat fun to see how far we can go with that belief. I’m sure we don’t need to talk about Santa Claus, the Tooth Fairy, or the Easter Bunny. Someday, these same children will catch us in those lies and then what? They may respond as I did to my mother, being suspicious of everything said from that point on.

5. Never Admit You’re Wrong

As much as we don’t want to acknowledge it, we mess up as parents and our children see it. Downplaying our transgressions and distracting our children with something else does little to foster trust. How can we expect our children to own up to their mistakes when we won’t admit our own?

Though my trust in my mother was broken, through consistent living she proved she was trustworthy. Today, Mom and I have a fantastic relationship.

Trust is a fragile thing. Once it’s broken, it takes a long time to mend. I beg you to tread carefully with your children.

Question for You: How do you mend relationships when trust has been broken?

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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8 thoughts on “Destroying a Child’s Trust in 5 Easy Steps

    • I’m not claiming to be a perfect mother. I know I’ve already made mistakes. But I do believe all of us can learn from mistakes that have already been made. As I said, Mom and I have a fantastic relationship now. I hope when my son has grown into a man, he’ll share the same sediment about me.

  1. I agree that breaking a child’s trust is one of the most damaging things you can do to him/her. My children rely on me to set a good example and be a role model to them so in that aspect I am careful whenever I make promises or say something that may be interpreted wrongly. I wouldn’t want them to grow up feeling that lying is the norm and you can’t trust anyone.

  2. I might get some grief for this, but I never told my kids there was a Santa Claus. Before you judge me let me tell you why. I made a decision while my wife was pregnant with our first that I wanted an honest trustworthy relationship with my kids. So I didn’t tell them he was still real. The payoff: at 13 and 11- they trust me, they know truth is important with me, and they have been pretty honest with me. Bonus: I can say I have never lied to you. I think our trust is important and I want to be known as an honest man and have them be known as honest kids.

    • The whole Santa Claus thing can cause a lot of trouble. My husband and I happen to agree with you. Our son knows of Santa Claus, but to him it is just an imagination game like all the dragons I have flying around my house. Honesty is so important. Thank you for sharing your experience with us, Wes.