Trust and Unschooling

My Unschooling Book Series (15)

I have already written some stories on the topic of trust that I can include in my book. However, I want to write something extra: What trust is, why it’s important and how we build up trust. So today, I jotted down some thoughts which I might be able to edit.

What is Trust?

What is trust? A dictionary definition: Trust is the firm belief in the reliability, truth, or ability of someone or something.

Maybe, with people, it’s about predicting with confidence what they are going to do, say or think. Is it important that the result of trust is positive? We might predict a person will make the wrong decision but we don’t trust them.

Is Connection Necessary?

Trust isn’t something that just happens. We can’t say, “I trust you” to our kids and then walk away and expect them to act in a right manner. Trust has to be based on something. It can’t be blind.

Trust is only possible because of knowledge. We can’t trust someone or something we don’t know. We can’t trust our children if we don’t know them well. We can’t trust unschooling until we know a lot about it and understand how it works.

We might already think we know our kids very well but perhaps we don’t. Maybe we don’t give them a chance to express their opinions. We might talk at them rather than listen to them. We might correct them instead of accepting their views. We might have preconceived ideas about who we want our children to be and not see who they actually are. We need to build up strong bonds. When we’ve done this, we’ll be closely connected, we’ll know our children, and we’ll find it easier to trust them.

Strong connections enable us to guide our kids. We are the most important people in their lives. They will be inclined to listen to us, just like we listen to them because they trust us.

Does it Take Time to Become Trustworthy?

Becoming trustworthy doesn’t happen overnight. Kids will make mistakes. But this is okay. They should be given the freedom to make choices without fear of retribution if they do happen to fail. Failure doesn’t mean we should tighten up control: “See what happens when I trust you? I told you I couldn’t trust you.”  Kids need opportunities to try, fail and learn in a safe environment. Becoming trustworthy involves a lot of time and experience. We have to trust our children will get there in the end.

If we don’t trust our kids while they are at home with us, they won’t get a chance to use their freedom while they still have us to guide them. When the time comes for them to head out into the bigger world, they’ll be ill-equipped to make decisions on their own.

Are We Scared to Trust?

Perhaps keeping our kids safe is so important that we are scared to give them the freedom they need. Instead, we hold on tightly to them. Maybe we worry that if something happens to our children or if they make mistakes and get themselves into trouble, it’ll be our fault. We should have controlled them better. This is the responsible thing for a parent to do.

How Will Not Being Trusted Affect Our Kids?

But will controlling our kids actually keep them safe? Or does it encourage them to rebel as soon as they can? It can be frustrating never having a say in what we do. Even though a parent’s intentions are good, controlling kids can backfire. It can push them in the direction we don’t want them to go.

Or instead of rebelling, will overprotected kids doubt their own ability to make decisions or to act appropriately or to try new things? Will they not be able to stand confidently on their own two feet?

What Do Trusted Kids Do?

What would we like our kids to do when we trust them? Perhaps we shouldn’t want them to do anything in particular. Instead, we should trust they are good people who are capable of making the right decisions in an appropriate way. It’s not about trusting our kids to follow our directions: “You have to be home by 11 pm.” The right choice might be different at different times. Kids need to develop the ability to assess the situation and make the best decision.

When kids are trusted, they want to live up to that trust. It spurs them on to become better people. Kids might be imperfect but they have good intentions (just like parents). Why do we assume they will automatically choose to do the wrong thing if they have the choice? Kids are sometimes more capable than we’d like to believe. And why shouldn’t they be? Do we doubt our ability to pass on our values and the knowledge and experiences that are necessary for our children to become trustworthy?

How Does it Feel Not to Be Trusted?

When we don’t trust, we inflict hurt and pain on our children. It doesn’t feel good not to be trusted, especially when we feel we are trustworthy.

Do we say thoughtless things that get in the way of trust? Do the words just fall from our mouths inflicting damage without us realising? We could get into the habit of always telling our kids what to think or say or do when we should just trust they will do the right thing: “While we are at the Jones’ house, remember to be polite and offer to help and share the toys…” Our kids shouldn’t have to ask, “Don’t you trust us?” We should have confidence in them.

Perhaps there are times when we aren’t honest with our kids or even ourselves because we don’t want to get into a situation where we might have to trust. We avoid opportunities to trust.

Is Mutual Trust Necessary?

Does our reluctance to trust have its roots in our own childhoods? Were we never trusted? Did we learn we couldn’t be trusted?

Should trust be mutual? Is it necessary, not only for us to trust our kids but for them to trust us? Do we have to earn that trust? Are we trustworthy or do we chop and change and confuse our children? Are we unreliable? Perhaps we use subtle means to test them or to find out more about what they’ve been doing even though we’ve said with our lips that we trust them.

When we’re unschooling, do we try and sneak knowledge into our children instead of trusting they’ll pick it up for themselves when they’re ready? Perhaps when our kids ask us a question, we see our opportunity and give them more than they want or need.

What About Teenagers?

Parents seem to have the most trouble trusting teenagers. Perhaps trusting doesn’t begin when our kids get older. We have to start when they are small. It’s a gradual learning process for both parent and child. If we control our small kids, it’ll be very hard for us to trust them when they get to the teenage years. We need to work on our connections right from the start.

What Are the Consequences Of Not Trusting?

If we find it hard to trust, we could think about the consequences of not trusting. Do we really want to live a life of control? That will be stressful. When we don’t trust, we could become suspicious. How do we know what our kids are doing when we’re not around? Will we snoop on them? Is that respectful? We could keep our kids close and not allow them to do anything away from home. But doing that will limit their experiences and their opportunities to grow. We’ll prevent them from enjoying the wonders of the bigger world. We’ll prevent them from developing and growing and acquiring the skills they will need to live happy, successful, independent lives.

Can We Trust Unschooling?

Can we trust unschooling? Do we have a firm belief in it? Will our unschooled kids really become the people they are meant to be? Will they learn all they need to know? To gain confidence, we need to understand unschooling. We can read about and ponder it. Learn from other people’s experiences. Perhaps it’s even better to observe our own kids and how they learn best. Talk to them about the things that are important to them and what they’d like to do. Respect their opinions and interests and who they are as people. As well, we can look at our own childhoods in an honest and open way. We have to be prepared to question what we experienced. Do we want the same things for our children? Or do we want something better?

Is There a Third Dimension to Trust?

Is there another dimension to trust? Does it extend beyond us? If we have a faith, we have to trust in God.

As I said, these are unedited thoughts. I’ve probably missed out a lot of relevant points and got these ones into a muddle. I certainly need to play around with the words, eliminate some of the questions, give more examples… But I hope you get the idea.

Sharing your thoughts about trust would be very helpful. Do you find it hard to trust your kids? Is something getting in the way of trust? Or are you confident that your children are trustworthy? What helped you get to this stage? I’d love to hear about your experiences!

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  1. Reply

    I find I can quite easily trust my kids because they have mostly shown good intent. It’s those other people out there I find hard to trust!
    It’s an interesting point about trusting people once you get to know them. It is hard to get to know everyone around you, but usually they feel more trustworthy once you do.
    You have a lot to say about trust if your post length is anything to go by! That is why it is one of your signoff words.
    xo Jazzy Jack

    1. Reply


      Showing good intent… Oh yes, I think this is so important. It makes such a difference. We’re not always successful, but we if start with good intentions, maybe that’s all the matters. The problem is that many people don’t look at our intentions. They’re only concerned with the final outcome.

      I didn’t think I had much to say about trust when I started writing. It’s a tricky subject, hard to understand, but I know it’s important, the basis of unschooling. Yes, one of my signoff words! I didn’t know what to write, so I decided to just jot down all the points I could think of. I was quite surprised to discover I have lots to say about trust after all. Perhaps I’ll divide this post up into smaller chunks to make it more readable. For me, at least, it’s been a helpful exercise writing this post.

  2. Reply

    Maybe because I know myself and what I used to try to “get away with” makes me a little skeptical. I think creating rules invites the breaking of them. But I don’t know how to live without some stated boundaries. I wish I could be mentored and coached more. Maybe I’m missing something.

    1. Reply


      “…because I know myself and what I used to try to “get away with” makes me a little skeptical.” I included some thoughts about this in my latest post ‘Should Parents Be in Charge Because They Have Experience and Wisdom?’ I’d love to hear what you think if you’d like to contiue the conversation!

    • Nancy
    • November 22, 2017

    Wow Sue, Your writing on trust is exceptional! I always thought I trusted my children. But when it was time for my older 2 to leave the nest, I realized that I was so worried, would they make the right decisions?, had I taught them enough? They are each married, and we even have a grandbaby and another on the way. My daughter who is a Pastor’s wife reminds me , Mommy, you did a great job, I am married now, live in my own home, and help my husband run a church, IT”S ALL GOOD! :).

    Of course our 2 younger children with special needs still live at home where my youngest Nathan is unschoolong. I have been able to ease up on the grip, if only in my mind. He is such a bright young man, so engaging. Anyone who spends time with him says what a great kid he is.

    I trust the Lord, and know that He is working in each of my children’s lives as well as that of mine and my husbands. God is trustworthy and has kept us all in great care.

    1. Reply


      Oh yes, you did a great job with your kids! Isn’t it wonderful when our kids recognise this?

      Your words about your youngest children remind me that all our kids have different needs. Some need us for longer. And that’s okay. We support each other for as long as it takes.

      If we have real trust, why should we worry? God is indeed taking care of all of us!

    • Anna
    • November 22, 2017

    I think you’ve helped me learn more about trust Sue.

    I feel my faith contributed to me not trusting my children-original sin etc. I was told that they naturally want to do wrong and they had to be disciplined into following the ‘right’ way. I guess this is why I don’t really trust my faith at all. I think it’s rather the opposite and that children are trustworthy and more connected to their feelings and environment.

    I have a ways to go but I’m thankful for your gentle, loving voice on this topic.

    1. Reply


      You are the second parent to mention original sin in the comments this week. Obviously, it’s something that needs to be addressed. So I’ve been pondering your words and now want to write another post on this topic. Last night, I jotted down some thoughts. I hope I can turn them into something that makes sense. I also hope you’ll return when I’ve published the post and add your thoughts.

      Thank you for always being an encouraging friend. xx

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