When we talk to parents and children about abduction, runaway, and exploitation prevention, we stress the concept of a “trusted adult”. Kids rely on trusted adults for advice. They need the guidance and judgment that adults are able to provide due to their greater life experience and their position of power and influence in the world.
Trusted adults engage with children. They are people whose intentions and judgment can be relied upon. Trusted adults know and understand their needs, and respond to them appropriately.
It’s sometimes difficult to engage with children. The fact is that they don’t always work to make it easy.
But there are a few habits we can cultivate to help us connect with our kids.
Increase the quality of everyday interactions.
It’s easy to get into the habit of conversing with our kids while also working, skimming the paper, or watching T.V. When your kids want to talk to you, even for something small and unimportant, try to stop what you are doing and make eye contact with them. Get on their level. Stand if they are standing, sit if they are sitting. Make sure that you understand what they are asking for, and why it is important to them. You might be able to help them come up with even better ideas to reach their goals.
If you need to tell them something, get into the habit of going to where they are, and telling them what you want directly. Avoid calling out from the other room, or out the door. You don’t want to be a disembodied voice just issuing orders.
Try to check in regularly with family traditions like the sit-down dinner, family game night, or reading and discussing a popular novel together.
Focus on solutions.
If a kid gets in trouble, they probably already understand how they got there. They didn’t come to you to be yelled at, they came for help fixing the problem. Taking responsibility and facing consequences is an important part of that, but in a crisis, most people do better when the energy is focused on solutions. The more constructive your responses are, the more trust you will earn.
When the crisis is over, and the child is filled with relief at having the crisis resolved, they will be more open to hearing advice about how they can avoid such problems in the future.
Increase the Quantity of Everyday interactions.
If you have a heavy workload, and tend to have long hours at the office, try to save items that you can do at home until the end of the day. Bring the work home. Even if you are not completely engaged with your kids, your physical presence is an improvement over your physical absence. You are more likely to have awareness of important information that would more easily slip past you while you are working late at the office.
Use your technology. Text, engage your kids through social media, send e-mail. Leave notes and check in periodically. Your kids are more likely to let you know where they are, who they are with, and what they are doing if you show them the same courtesy.
Know who their friends are, and have them into your home.
Becoming a “destination house” is a great way to engage with your kids. Providing and participating in wholesome and attractive activities, keeping lots of snacks and making your home a welcoming, safe, supervised place to go ensures that you will know what is going on in your kid’s lives, and will be able to find more opportunities to engage with them.
Know who your kid’s other “Trusted Adults” are, and be sure to get to know them.
It is a good thing to know the people that influence your child’s decisions and outlook on life. Talking to your kids about who they listen to, andabout what they value in their support network can tell you a lot about their situation, both socially and personally. It is a great barometer of their values, worries, and ambitions.
When you get to know their trusted adults (and their friends) you will also have a better sense of who your allies are in helping your child. They may have resources that you can direct your child to that you yourself do not have. Making your child’s social support system part of your toolkit gives you some options that you might not have trying to “go it alone”.