The Parenting Coach: Learning to Trust Your Children

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I recently watched the movie God Grew Tired of Us.  It’s a documentary that tells the story of the Lost Boys of Sudan: a group of 1,000s of very young, orphaned refugees who were forced to flee Sudan alone and on foot, in order to survive.  After living in refugee camps for almost 10 years, the U.S. government offered 28 of them the opportunity to relocate to America.  While the documentary mainly focuses on the transition from the desert in Africa to a life in a large, American city, I was mostly struck by the first half of the story.

In order to survive, thousands of very young boys traveled over a thousand miles, facing starvation, wild animals and the knowledge that the family they left behind had likely been killed.  Despite these horrific circumstances, these boys found themselves creating makeshift families.  Older boys looked after younger ones, helping to feed some, and burying others along the way.  Once they arrived in the refugee camps, they continued to establish a community.  They established their own governmental system, with older boys serving as the representatives for the group.  On days when they ran out of food, they congregated, singing and dancing, in order to help distract each other from the huger pangs.  Despite having lost their own families, despite having every reason to feel a deep-seeded anger towards the world, despite facing debilitating physical circumstances, these boys did the ‘right thing’.  They took care of each other, recognized their responsibility to the group, and maintained compassion towards one another.

So often I work with parents who are certain that their children, if left to their own devices, will be lazy, do nothing but play video games, eat nothing by sugary cereals and break valuable things.  I am always baffled as to why this is such a widely held belief.  Why is it so inconceivable that our children will do the right thing, even without our instruction?  Why are our children so different than these orphaned Sudanese boys?  They didn’t even have parents to tell them what to do.  Somehow, they just knew.

I submit that our children do, too.   It’s just that we don’t trust that they will and, therefore, we don’t give them the chance.

Granted, a shift towards a more trusting relationship requires a transition period.  A child might not know what to do with the freedom this approach allows if he is used to being raised with a more traditional approach.  Moving towards a more trusting relationship can happen in steps but, more importantly, requires communication.  A child needs to understand that Mom or Dad is giving him more space here because she trusts him to make a good decision.  This also requires a willingness on the part of parents to accept a child’s decision even if it is different than their own.

Consider your own relationship with your child.  We all make mistakes and bad choices in life.  That’s part of the learning process.  When we give kids the space to err, we give them the opportunity to correct themselves and make a better choice.  When kids are encouraged to take ownership of their decisions, they learn to become more responsible, independent and compassionate.  They also usually exceed our expectations of what they are capable.  However, it all begins with our decision to trust their ability to do the right thing.

Gila Brown, M.A. is a Child Development Expert and Parent Coach, with over 10 years of teaching experience. She specializes in parenting school-age children with grace, using principles of attachment parenting, positive discipline and effective communication. Visit to sign up for a free newsletter.

© Gila Brown, 2009

About Karen Young

Karen Young is the founder of My Daily Find.