Wendy Priesnitz - writer, editor, changemaker
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Why Trusting Kids is Hard

Companion Planting

Trust is one of the foundations of the non-coercive parenting and life learning/self-directed education way of being with children and young people. It is also something I have seen other parents struggle with as they make decisions about schooling and socialization during this pandemic.

Trusting kids doesn't always come easily at the best of times. Why it is so hard? Why do we find it so difficult to trust children not only to learn, but to eat properly, to develop “good manners,” not to bully other people, to get enough sleep, and to generally do the right thing for themselves and others?

Trusting kids isn’t popular in our culture. People believe that children and young people can’t make their own decisions, that they won’t learn anything (let alone “the right things”) unless taught, that they won’t say “thank you” unless we prompt them to, that they’ll grow up to be slobs unless we bribe them to keep their bedrooms clean, and so on. Our society says children can’t be trusted because they aren’t trustworthy, and that they are wild, loud, inconsiderate, and uninterested in learning about the world around them unless forced. Our society is, in fact, structured around the belief that children must be taught what they need to learn, as well as socialized and molded into something defined as acceptable. As I've written in so many places over the years, my observations of young children have shown me otherwise – they can develop into kind, trustworthy, thoughtful citizens if they are respected and trusted, and if those traits are modelled for them.

Perhaps the reason trusting kids is hard is that we weren't trust when we were growing up. Most of us weren’t allowed to make our own decisions about what to wear, what and when to eat, whether or not we were cold, what friends to have, what to study and when, how to participate in family decision making. We were managed, not trusted. We were dictated to, not allowed to think. Then, as we became young adults, our parents and teachers worried about us – not realizing that their lack of trust and the resulting control had ill-prepared us to make our own decisions. In the end, their lack of trust often became a self-fulfilling prophecy and we messed up. Because it's so common, many people think that adolescent mistake-making, rebellion, surliness, and all the other things that go along with those years, constitute a rite of passage – an important part of growing up. But it doesn't have to be.

Even those of us who have decided there is a better way of parenting than the way we were brought up can occasionally feel uncertain about trusting our children because suspicion of young people is so deeply entrenched in our society. Trusting kids is not something that most of us were programmed for, so we adults need to be patient with ourselves as we walk the alternative parenting/life learning path. It is also helpful to try and ignore the inevitable adultist judgment of others.

I'm convinced that the best we can do for children and young people is to nurture their understanding of their own needs and interests, to help and guide them if they are confused, and to be there for them if and when they ask for our help. If we have provided that trust and respect, and if we have modelled self-respect and care for ourselves and others, they will feel comfortable looking to us for the assistance they need to fulfill their own potential.

Wendy Priesnitz

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copyright (c) 2023

Beyond School by Wendy Priesnitz    Natural Life's Green and Healthy Homes by Wendy Priesnitz    It Hasn't Shut Me Up by Wendy Priesnitz    Challenging Assumptions in Education by Wendy Priesnitz    Life Learning by Wendy Priesnitz