Follow The Apparent Parent by Email

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Fatherhood tips: Trust falls

My oldest son doesn't always trust me. In fact, he's often downright scared of things I ask him to do and will flatly turn me down. Lately there's been two of these trust issues, as I see them.

Oh he'll jump off inanimate objects to the cold, hard ground, but
you put his loving father at the base to catch him and suddenly it's too scary.
Trust issues? I'd say so.
1. We have a bunk bed the kids line up on top of and jump to me. The two girls, ages 5 and 2, will sky toward me without a second thought, but our 6-year-old boy will stand there for 10, 20, 30 seconds as the girls and I coax him to jump. Sometimes Ms. Mischief will even try to push him off, which really freaks him (and me) out. Finally my arms get tired and I let the girls have another turn. He gets upset that I move on, even though he obviously doesn't trust me and/or himself enough to jump. Mostly me. 

2. My wife has been teaching the kids biology lately and we got talking about knee-jerk reactions. I set up a tall food-storage bucket in the living room and started whacking the girls' knees with a wooden sword to show them how it worked.
They each giggled and laughed delightedly whenever I struck their nerves and made their feet pop forward involuntarily. I even got it to where I could hit both knees simultaneously with the long sword blade and make them both bump forward. They fought to be the next one to get nailed below the kneecap. But I could not for the life of me convince the boy it wouldn't hurt if he tried it and he, like the girls, would enjoy it. I finally let it go.

However, the next day the girls asked for the treatment again and I really found myself pressuring my son to let me whack him with the sword. I realized if one of his friends were doing this to him I would consider it negative peer pressure. So I called him over and talked with him a bit. I told him it was great he was willing to tell me "No" to something he wasn't comfortable with. I said it was especially important to be able to do this with friends who will at some point try to pressure him to do things he shouldn't. Then I reassured him and told him that I, as his Daddy, would never ask him to do anything that was unsafe or unwise. His mother backed me up beautifully, saying she'd been thinking the same thing. I then sent him off, thanking him again for standing up for himself.

I didn't think much of it after that, but before long an interesting thing happened: he came up with a sheepish grin carrying that bucket I'd been sitting the girls on to do the knee jerks. My guess is that telling him it was good to stand up for himself helped him trust me just enough to get him over the hurdle, especially since his mom had agreed. The way I see it is I showed him a little more trust and then he did the same for me.

Even better, he loved the experience once he trusted me enough to do it, which is why I’d been pressuring him so hard in the first place. That will go a long way to reinforce his newfound trust.

Later on, the girls were jumping off the bed again. The boy, though he had to psych himself up pretty good, surprised me by getting in on the fun. Before long, he was leaping halfway across the room into my outstretched arms, fully trusting me to catch him. Excitement coursed through him – he was electrified by it and really came to life, yelling with self-satisfaction and joy as he leapt to me over and over across increasingly wide gaps. 

Now I wouldn’t necessarily chalk this up to me being an awesome father, but I probably wouldn’t argue with anyone if they wanted to say that.

Has anyone else ever experienced trust issues with their children? What ways did you find to correct them?


  1. Nice job! And very good point. My oldest is quite timid, too. I will have to work on this. . .

  2. Thanks Leisel. The results were surprising to me. You should see the kid in swimming lessons...

  3. Heather Von St. JamesApril 21, 2014 at 11:13 AM


    I have a quick question for you, could you email me when you have a chance? Thanks! –Heather