The Science of Your Kids' Trust (and 5 Ways to Keep It)

by ParentCo. January 18, 2017

young girl covering her face with hands

“Promise? Buzz Lightyear, promise to catch me?”

As I was chipping away at Mt. Laundry and matching socks, I heard the soft voice of my two-year-old and paused. “Catch me?” I panicked at the thought of what my dare devil tot was up to and turned around to a peculiar scene.

Buzz Lightyear lay on his back with his arms posed upwards. My son stood above Buzz and repeated his request: “Promise? Buzz? Catch me?” My son was trying to play the old game of Trust.

I stepped in before my son fell flat on top of his toy, but the scene kept playing in my head. Catch me. Catch me. My son was so trusting, even to the point of playing Trust with a simple object.

I started thinking about trust, and the incredible amount of trust that children place in their parents. No one has ever blindly trusted me as much as my two boys. It’s a humbling experience.

Trust is fueled by oxytocin

Researchers from the University of Zurich published a study that links oxytocin with increased trust levels. In particular, the study focused on how smelling the hormone made participants more willing to trust others.

Oxytocin, nicknamed the “love hormone,” is responsible for bonding between mothers and children as well as between mates. Oxytocin is even released during breastfeeding. It makes sense then that there would be an incredible amount of trust between a mother and child.

Trust is a short cut for a child’s brain

Another study, conducted by Vikram Jaswal, illustrated that children are naturally inclined to believe what they are told. Jaswal concluded that the trust levels of children are designed to save the child’s brain from constantly evaluating everything they hear.

The “Why” game is tough enough. Imagine hearing “Why… Are you sure?” after every inquiry!

Just because you have trust once doesn’t mean it will last

Although children are biologically wired to trust their parents thanks to oxytocin, trust between parent and child is not an unbreakable entity. Trust is a fickle, fickle thing, and it can be broken in a single moment.

A young child might lose trust if repeatedly lied to, or if she or he experiences a trauma (such as a painful shot after being told it won’t hurt). In addition, as children get older and their brains mature, skepticism enters the scene. Teens are notorious for not believing their parents.

The trust between you and your child can be kept and strengthened

Whether your child is five or 15, it’s never too late to work towards gaining, repairing, or strengthen trust. Here are a few ways to keep the trust strong between you and your little. 1 | Listen Listening (really listening) helps to foster a trusting environment. If a child feels like he is listened to, he can feel secure in trusting you with the little stories, and eventually the bigger stories. 2 | Always tell the truth Not telling the truth is the quickest path to losing the trust of your child. The real challenge is discerning how much of the truth to tell. Your reply to children’s tough questions should always be both honest and age appropriate. 3 | Keep your promises If you say something, mean it. Not only does this foster an environment for trust to bloom, but it also models an important behavior for kids to follow. 4 | Respect your child This may seem obvious, but in today’s world, it is frighteningly easy to over share, especially on social media. If your child entrusts you with an embarrassing story, quote, or photo, seek permission before you share, tweet, or post. 5 | Be vulnerable Trust goes both ways. Show your child that you trust them. Open up and express your feelings.

Parents not only have the task of maintaining trust with their children, but they also shape how their children view trust in general. This thought that encourages me daily. My boys have given me their trust, and it’s my job to make sure I keep it.



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