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Regaining Trust: My Teen Broke My Trust. Now I’m Letting Him Earn It Back

When my son was five, I struggled with his behavior. I thought it made sense to punish him by taking things away when he was acting up.

Sometimes it was his favorite show or a toy he loved. Sometimes I wouldn’t allow him to have dessert. I felt like we did this dance for years with no improvement in his behavior. I was frustrated and couldn’t figure out why he wasn’t responding. Why was the crime worth the punishment in his mind?  He loved dessert, he loved sitting down to watch his show, and he was attached to his toys.

I shared my parenting problem with my brother-in-law, who gave me some of the best advice I’ve ever received as a mother. He proposed that when you take something important away from a child as punishment, he should have the opportunity to earn it back. Let him know you will be watching him closely to see if his behavior improves, so he will get back what he lost.

How To Deal With A Child That Lies: Regaining Trust

As soon as I tried this, it started working, and when I punished my son, I changed my tone. It was less angry and more hopeful sounding as I let him know what I was taking away and why, while also encouraging him to demonstrate extra good behavior to earn it back.

And very soon things started to change. He was excited to see how fast he could earn something back.

That little boy is now a teenager who has decided to dabble in things like sneaking around, lying, and experimenting, as a lot of teenagers do. As hard as this road is to navigate for me – it’s much easier to take away a favorite toy or ice cream – I’ve realized the advice I received so long ago still needs to be used today. In fact, it’s even more important now than it was back then.

Last fall was a rough time for my son. At fourteen, he started getting in trouble at school and stopped following the house rules. So I took it all away: He no longer had access to his phone and he wasn’t allowed to see his friends outside of school.

I let him know I needed to see big changes if he wanted his social life back. He had to earn it through good behavior. After about three weeks of hard work on his part, I returned the phone. A week after that, he asked if could spend the night at a friend’s house and I agreed.

Starting Over And Building Back Trust

Things went well for about two weeks, and I let him know I was proud of him and felt like we were on a new path; but I wasn’t ready to restore all his freedoms. He told me he was motivated to earn my trust back, and I believed he meant it.

Unfortunately, he slipped up again, so we started completely over from the beginning.  We repeated this process a few times this past year.

While it was extremely frustrating for me, I stuck to it. There was a time when I felt like taking away everything he owned forever because I couldn’t stand the stress of it all, but who would that help?

Welcome to parenting teens, where there is no easy way to do it right.

I kept remembering the little boy who tried so hard to earn his privileges back. I knew I was doing the best thing for us both by being tough on him. It is difficult to make him sit out of social events and not have access to a phone; however, I also know I was right to keep giving him chances and let him show me he could be trusted again.

As much as we want our kids to catch on quickly, their reactions to punishments are not always going to be what we think they should be. They go through phases of acting as if they don’t care, but we need to remember they do.

Earning Our Trust Back

Teens are trying to find out who they are and what feels right to them. As parents, it’s our job to set them straight, especially during those times they think they don’t want any rules.

My son is on the right track and in a much better place. But that doesn’t mean the next three years living in my home full-time are going to be smooth sailing.

But I do know one thing for sure: Allowing our kids the time and space to earn our trust back is the best thing we can do for them. No one wants to feel like just because they have screwed up once, they are never going to be trusted.

Everyone deserves a second chance. Our kids want to be loved and supported even if they don’t act like it. It’s these times when the need to be loved a little extra.

And more than anything, allowing them to earn our trust back can be the best way we can demonstrate that we believe they are trustworthy.


Katie Bingham-Smith

Katie Bingham-Smith had three kids in three years and crafts herself silly in order to stay sane. She loves to write, wear faux leather pants, eat at burger joints, and make beautiful things. You can see more on her blog www.philigry.comFacebook and Instagram.