Why are we so afraid to trust children?

Why are we so afraid to trust children?

“We have a cultural notion that if children were not engineered, if we did not manipulate them, they would grow up as beasts in the field. This is the wildest fallacy in the world.”

– Joseph Chilton Pearce

If you don’t know it by now, trust and freedom are two things I value pretty highly and try to make a priority for my children. I get the feeling this is pretty uncommon though. Whenever I post about things like my kids not having a set bedtime, not using punishment or rewards, not requiring obedience, not forcing them to clean up or eat their dinner, not forcing manners, or not smacking, there are a lot of negative comments. Not so much in my own circles, or from regular readers of my blog. I assume that most people who read my posts regularly have similar views to me. But if a post happens to be shared to a wider more mainstream audience, then there is outrage!

‘This is a load of bull!’

‘Kids need rules or they will grow up to be brats!’

‘This is what’s wrong with the world today’

‘Of course we need to tell kids what to do, how else will they know?’

‘Kids need to learn to follow orders. Yes, sometimes without question.’

‘This can’t be true’

‘And what happens when your kids grow up and nobody wants to be their friend because they are spoiled brats and used to getting their own way?’

‘I would end up being my kids maid if I didn’t tell them what to do’

‘Of course you need rules or your kids will walk all over you!’

‘She’s obviously living in a fantasy land’

It always makes me think, what a sad pessimistic view of children we have. The old ‘give them an inch and they’ll take a mile’. Like somehow our children are out to take advantage of us and we must maintain strict control at all times. Do we really believe that children are inherently bad? That given a chance they will always make the wrong choices? I certainly don’t! Perhaps if you live in a house where you are used to strict control, you might be more likely to do the wrong thing when the opportunity arises just to see what it’s like, or what will happen. Maybe a little bit of freedom is overwhelming and you don’t know what to do with it? But in a house where freedom abounds, where you are trusted, and the lines of communication are always open, I don’t find this to be the case at all. Children learn to make good choices by being allowed to practice making their own choices, and by learning through natural consequences instead of harsh imposed punishments.

Why are we so afraid to give them that opportunity? Why are we so very afraid of giving them too much freedom or trust? As if were we to even try it the damage would be irreparable. Most of the people who comment negatively have not even tried another approach. They say ‘if I did this, my children would take advantage of me’ like it’s a fact. But it is not. For some reason we have been led to believe this, but many children are growing up trusted and respected and they are not brats. They are confident and capable and a delight to be around. I have four of them right here. And no I’m not just ‘lucky’ and it’s not because they are girls, I know of many other kids and parents that are the same.

Why are we so afraid to trust children?

Most people it seems are too afraid to even try respectful parenting because they just know it couldn’t work. They ‘know a friend of a friend who was a permissive parent and their children were horrible’. Let me be clear. Respectful parenting is not permissive parenting. There are limits and boundaries but there is a lot of trust and respect too. People seem to believe it is either one or the other. Strict control or total neglect. They are scared to give their children too much freedom because it may mean they no longer have any influence over them. I beg to differ! When you have a relationship with your children based on trust and respect you have greater influence. You are no longer working against each other with one person giving the orders and trying to keep the other in line. You are a team. You talk about things together, you respect each other, you listen, you give advice, you comfort when things don’t go to plan. You model good decision making and behaviour, and you let them learn about the world and the consequences of their actions without judgment. When there is no fear of punishment they are much more likely to confide in you. When they are not constantly bombarded with rules, they are more likely to listen when it really matters.

And what happens when they make the wrong decisions? You talk about it! Giving them freedom and trust doesn’t mean they won’t ever do the wrong thing, and it doesn’t mean you just leave them to their own devices completely! Of course you step in and offer advice and suggestions when things don’t go to plan. Again, it’s not an all or nothing situation. Just treat them how you would want to be treated. If you made a mistake at work would you like to be yelled at and punished? Or would you like to talk it through, work out how to fix it, and decide how to avoid the same problem in the future? I’m guessing the latter.

Children are no less deserving of respect, trust, and freedom than adults. They are surprisingly capable when given the chance. If only people weren’t so afraid to give it to them.

Why are we so afraid to trust children?

‘All I am saying… can be summed up in two words: Trust Children. Nothing could be more simple, or more difficult. Difficult because to trust children we must first learn to trust ourselves, and most of us were taught as children that we could not be trusted.’                                                                                                                                                                          John Holt

39 thoughts on “Why are we so afraid to trust children?

  1. This is so lovely to read. As a mum of two delightful little boys who I parent in what sounds like a similar manner, I am frustrated when people are surprised at how well they negotiate the world showing kindness & respect to others & their environment because they are male! I think the positive impact of patenting our children with respect whilst being a kind firm presence cannot be underestimated. Also, congratulations on your new baby-I an one of four girls & it is wonderful x

  2. This is a great read. I have to say, that I am not often sure of how to parent. I have two wonderful son’s , who are very head strong. If I allowed them, they would and do sit on their tablets all day long. There is no hygiene, there is only tablets and boredom. I try to talk to my son’s who are in another planet.
    No reading gets done.No math, no nothing. I am soley responsible for the cooking and the cleaning and everything else that happens. I have tried to give them the freedom to make choices.
    I suppose, there is a fear. and the fear is not about today, or even how pissed off I get at having to clean up after everyone.
    It is how they will function in a world that is ripe with rules and asks that everyone be the same and that has these very often cut and dry ways boy’s behave and how they should be and the same for girls. Though it seems that the world for girls is changing.
    I have given up on bedtime, and they stay up really late, when I am exhausted and want to go bed already.
    They are rejected by peers for living a different life and being different and thishurts.
    I am not strict by any sens of the word. I have always talked openly with my children , A thing I question. e havea small house and my reason for wanting them to clean up, is first and foremost, that I want them to want to be helpful and not assume that cleaning is a job for women. I have not ever had my children just clean up after themselves.As I write this, there are about twenty empty food containers left everywhere, there are shoes thrown from the front door to the back. The food choices( one son has food issues) are always choices that are unhealthy and the consequences for them, are consequences for me. I spent 36 nights in the E.r. for my son’s eating the wrong foods. The teeth that don’t get brushed , I have had to pay to get them filled and or pulled.And if I am really honest, the kids that are allowed to say anything and do whatever they wish, do not fare well out in the real world of people believing that parenting is teaching and that these children are left standing on the side of the road because they don’ how to fit in. My kids are homeschooled, for a lot of reason none of them religious.
    I have lived a very fear life, and taken the consequences and I do not want my son’s to take the same consequences.
    So, it is a lot of fear.
    And the evidence just does not add up, that they will master skills that need to exist in a society that has changed very little in regards to what makes one successful and how we view people and their value in general.
    My children are kind and empathetic , something that is not valued in children, especially boys. I don’t live in a particularly stuffy area.
    But, it is clear s very clear, for my oldest son, who is very bright and not at all athletic and is afraid to try new things and afraid of people.
    I see him sitting on the sidelines, often not liked very much and finding it impossible to make friends. A thing that hurts him.The world is not filled with really nice people who are non-mental and kind. It just is not and this pains me greatly, but I will not change it.
    My kids very much feel like out casts and not because of me.
    They are tortured for being home schooled, I am constantly being left out because I allow my son’s the freedom to pick food from a mun based on what they like. I am left out too.
    When I fast forward to years fro now, I don’tmuch care if they have a clean room or if they read any books.I don’t much care about how they will wash themselves or not. I do care that they willnot be prepared to exist int the world as the world exists.
    I know how crushed and awful I have felt, because I was allowed to make my choices and they were not often good choices. Not because I was mean. I see the other adults, the children, who much like myself were in schools that were meant to be for free thinkers,( I am a child of the 60, 70, 80). I was given no practical skills. I was not told or informed even a little bit about money ansd saving and or how to get a job. So, I ened up wating tables. I was and am an artist, another thing, that left on the side.
    I have been attacked by family and my kids have been unincluded. I do beleive because of me. Parents don’t want their children around free thinkers.I feel profoundly sad that my oldest son has no friends. That he lives in the world of his own mind. That he is so insecure and so afraid.
    I see how he hurts.
    I love him and value him, but the rest of the world is off put and finds him easy to ignore. They do not merge nicely into main stream. The thing is this: All I really want for them is to like themselves and feel good about themselves.
    I also want them to clean up and help me. They do not. It is true, that I could ignore the dirty dishes and I can ignore the moutnains of laudry and I can ignore all of it and let them raise themselves, which is what was allowed to happen with me.
    I felt cut a drift and lost, like the rest of the world got a map and I was the only one that did not .
    It is not about teaching them to behave.
    It is about allowing them to fit in, because not fitting in hurts like hell. They do not see the values we have anywhere in the world.
    My son’s are always crushed and and sad, about how they are not included and about how often people , disregard time and the plans they have made with them. I do believe my choices at times have cost them.
    My job as a parent is to assist them and help them build a life that that they are most comfortable with. They already feel like less, because they have less than the kids around them.
    Unless, I am prepared to take them and live on a moutain somewhere, they feel this no matter what I say.

    • Gailen,

      I remember you posting on this blog before. I’m sorry – it sounds like you’re really having a hard time. I’m not an expert of any kind, just another reader of this wonderful blog, but I felt the need to respond. The main thing I get from what you’ve written here, is that you’re afraid. Afraid your kids won’t be “ready” to live in the world, when they’re older, afraid they won’t be happy, afraid you’re doing something wrong. That must be really hard! I think it’s something more homeschooling/unschooling parents feel. All I can say is…don’t be afraid to make changes. To anything. If you need to set a bed time for your kids because you just can’t manage otherwise (you mention you’re “exhausted”) you’re NOT failing. You’re just making some changes that work better for your family. If you need to create more rules for your kids, or even have them do chores (I know, that’s a big no-no for much of the unschooling crowd) then do it. There is NOTHING wrong with that as long as it makes your home a better, more comfortable place to be in for all of you, yourself included.
      From what you’re saying, it also sounds as if your kids would benefit from some kind of structure…would it be possible for them to join a sports club or (since one of your sons is not athletic, as you say) some other kind of hobby club? Anything video games-related? Or something with crafts? Music? Joining a club of some sort might help with their social skills too (you mention how it hurts that your son doesn’t have friends). It would be great if he could find a like-minded person to hang out with, and at the same time have the structure that comes from knowing Wednesday is tennis/video games/book club day. If clubs are too expensive, you may want to look at what your local library offers – they sometimes offer clubs and courses for free or for very little money. And what about local homeschooling groups?
      Finally, I know you want to homeschool/unschool, but if you do decide to send your kids to school, that is ok, too. There’s nothing wrong with that, and you are not a failure. Different things work for different people, and for different families. You can’t measure yourself by someone else’s standards, because your family consists of different people and YOU are a different person. So don’t be afraid, and do the things that feel right for your family, and that help both you and your kids thrive.

    • I love your sharing.
      I had a beautiful long conversation with my mom yesterday and we finally confessed to each other that our entire lives we felt like and have been treated like outsiders by her primary family, for some deep reasons of their childhood neglect. They are mainstream, we are free thinkers. We got away. We do not fit in. You know what? Thank God for that because we would have to lower our bars a lot!
      We are not people of pleasantries and empty chit chats, unless someone is able to share, really share and be accepted, and listen and accept us with no regards to our stuff, there is no point of making friends. We don’t need tons of empty contacts.
      Your sons will find their soulmates (friends and partners). I now have my lovely husband and am so happy and proud for who I am, that I persisted through the years of being rejected, disrespected and ignored.

      I would love to hear just that you managed to limit strictly their screen time, let them be bored, let them the time to come back to the real world, and search through neighbourhood, school, friends of friends, sport club/language school some friends.
      Go fellow momma!
      Hearty salutes from the sunny Macedonia!

  3. I don’t have kids of my own yet, but I do work with children. I have been experimenting with (what I call) “respectful educatoring” because of these blogs. It is amazing to see what kids can do when they are trusted, when everyone works together. When they realize that I am not there to force the lesson down their throat, that I am there to lead them in their explorations of nature, it makes things much less stressful all around.

    I’m glad you used the quote at the end because I have seen adults acting like kids will purposefully trick them, but I think adults tend to think that because they were tricked as children. (Things like, “You can’t have ice cream after eight or you will poop all night” or “Your ears will turn red when you lie”). I once saw a friend get extremely angry because she got duped by a three year old; but I know that she did not have a trusting childhood. It takes time and awareness to break the cycle, and I think a lot of open-mindedness is required.

    Thank you for your awesome blog. It has helped to change my perspective on parenting and children.

  4. I agree wholeheartedly with this. Just read Alfie Kohn’s ‘Beyond Discipline’ & ‘Unconditional Parenting.’ Loved both. Now reading ‘It’s OK Not to Share.’ I have two issues: one is breaking the cycle of the way I was raised (not easy). As if parenting isn’t hard enough without this added challenge. Second, I have a daughter who is almost 2 & a stepson who is almost 10. Being a blended family also adds extra challenges. One being that I end up single parenting much of the time while my husband is away for work. This makes for an interesting dynamic. Usually, I enjoy the dynamic between my SS and I much more when my husband is away. We just seem to mesh better. However, one thing I do struggle with is getting him to pick up after himself. At what age should we start teaching basic common courtesies of picking after oneself? I try to talk about it as a team approach – that I need help because if I am the only one cleaning up after 4 people there is no way I can keep. I tell him I need help. These talks usually go over well but then when it comes to him picking up after himself without being told, we are back to square one. Am I expecting too much? Should I just bite my tongue and be okay with doing everything myself? Am I being too hard on him when I tell him to clear his dinner plate or throw away his granola bar wrappers he leaves on the couch? Part of me says I’m justified; the other part of me feels like he feels like I am nitpicking. And maybe I am. Thoughts?

    • How about a middle ground of not having the “talks” and just reminding him when something needs putting away. Lower your expectations and see it as your way of helping him form good habits over a lifetime rather than overnight.

      Hey SS you left your pjs here can you please put them under your pillow?
      Then make sure you are modeling putting things away.
      Can you please do x and I’ll do y then we can go do something together.

      Remember tone matters not just which words you use. I try and focus on keeping the feeling light and casual rather than feeling like this is the 200th time I have told you to put your stuff away will you never get this right. I’m sure my children intend doing the right thing just they have so much going on in their heads they can forget sometimes (so can I).

      🙂

  5. I couldn’t agree with you more. I am reading this nodding my head yes, yes, yes.

    I feel that I parent very different from my other Mum friends. They have rules and use the word “no” and “don’t” a lot. I am not saying I don’t either but yes why won’t we trust our kids?

    Stay in the yard. Don’t play behind there. Put that down. Don’t drink from the hose. — I did all these things and I think I turned out OK.

    I think that every parent should read this post. Excellent! Well done and well said!

  6. You are so right, we do have to learn to trust our children. Be there for them and guide them but trust them all the same. Great reading.

  7. Great article, and it definitely opens my eyes to see things from a different perspective, and I could definitely see myself trying this technique. Being so strict all the time, just gets me more frustrated than anything.

  8. I admire you! I am having the same values BUT it is still hard for me to remember them, especially at the point of being angry. This is such a beautiful post, perfectly right words. Thank you for sharing!

  9. Wow!!! Love this!! I am not a mom yet…but I love articles like this because its exactly how I see it! The beautifully of freedom and trust. You can’t treat your kids like kids there whole life and then when they hit 18 expect them to some how be solid, masking there own decision adults when they were never aloud and trusted. Fantastic blog!!! Thank you!

  10. Right to the point as always, sharp and yet full of deep understanding!
    I would just like to add: There aren`t right or wrong choices that kids make, especially in learning, there is just our perspective, which one we like better. What we perceive as the right choice is usually the wrong one regarding what will the child learn.

    We disrespect children because we don`t know other way. We were raised that way, we`v been treated like crap, we feel like crap and that is how we treat others. We are in fact deeply unhappy, hurt and ignorant. We don`t know how we like to be treated, at least not in practice.

    btw I thought you and our J Lo (Janet Lansbury) were mainstream in Australia! Aren`t you?!!? Darn, I was actually considering moving there! :))

  11. I have been moving lately toward similar thoughts about obedience and commanding children to do things, so thank you so much for articulating this style of respectful parenting so well!

    I do have a question / struggle with this approach because my kids are still so young (4.5, 2.5, and 6 months). A good example is that both of my older kids are now able to open the doors out of the house, and it has been a big problem that they leave the house without asking or even telling us they are going! It is not “dangerous,” per se, as we live in a safe neighborhood on a relatively calm street with attentive neighbors, but obviously it is inconvenient, at best, and neglectful, at worst, for me to not know that my children have left the house (this occurs most often when I am upstairs changing the baby). I have struggled with explaining this to them in such a way that they understand why this is a bad idea, without bringing in some kind of unnatural consequence / punishment.

    That said, I love the idea of this approach, and I want to try to learn to become a parent who puts my values into action with my kids.

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  16. I love this list, but can you give me a couple of concrete examples of when you have trusted your child and it has gone well, and maybe a couple of times they made a mistaken choice and how you responded? That would really help me put what you are saying into context. I just want to try it!
    Thanks?Lizzie

  17. Nice! This reminds me of this woman that I saw at a zoo outing with 5 kids, all well under the age of 10. She was gliding through the day, no one was stressed, yelling at each other, she didn’t look sleep deprived… Kids were rounding themselves up, keeping each other safe while mum strolled with the one year old in the pram. Then it dawned on me just how much you can trust kids if you give them a chance, and how the eldest one sets a tone for the whole family.

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