If You Want Your Child to Talk to You, Build Trust First

Posted: August 27, 2019

Talking to your child can have a variety of results.  

Your child may:
1. listen and want to continue the conversation. 
2. appear to listen and move on to the next thing without responding. 
3. not seem like he's listening, but he really is.
4. hear your tone of voice, determine it to be unforgiving, and turn away.
5. be too preoccupied to hear you. 
6. have an auditory processing deficit, which prevents her from getting the message.  
7. give you a quick answer to get you to move on.  

This isn't a comprehensive list, but maybe your saw a pattern that's typical of your child, and would like to explore ways to make the listening and speaking more effective. 

First, build trust.  If a child doesn't feel trust for you, she will likely be a number 2, 4, or 7.  She'll move on without a comment, turn away, or give a quick answer to get you to move on.  

How do you build trust?  Listen deeply, reflect what your child has said, and don't pass judgment. 

Listening deeply and reflecting what you hear looks like this:
Child: "I don't want the summer to end and I don't want to go back to school." 

You: "I hear you.  You want the summer to last forever so you don't have to think about school."  

This builds trust because it shows your child that you really got her message.  Her brain actually calms down when this happens, and she is much more likely to share her heart with you. 

Child: "I feel left out. The kids in my group from last year aren't talking to me." 

You: "You're feeling like the kids don't like you like they did last year, and that's lonely." 

Note that there's no fixing in these statements.  No solutions are offered, such as: "Well, you need an education and school is where you get it, so you'd better get your head in the game."  

Or, "Just do a better job of acting interested in your friends and they'll come around."  

These answers seem like what parents should say, but the issue with them is that neither of them creates trust.  Why? Because they signal to the child that you have the solution to their problem, and they leave the child out of it.  These are great big "I don't see you" responses that we hear every day.  

Trust comes from seeing your child clearly and accepting his or her state of mind in the present moment.  If you haven't done this before, it can sound odd or really difficult.  But if you want to build a bridge to your child, it can happen.  Free and open communication is what keeps you connected, helps you know where your child's issues lie, and allows you to be there when things are not ideal.  This is trust.  She'll see that you're not judging, that you really are interested in her life, and that she's receiving your respect.  Then she's free to seek you out when things are hard, not worried that your response will negate her own ability to think, or that you won't care enough to offer help if she asks for it.  

Parenting is so different from what we grew up with ... I hear this all the time.  It is quite different, and I think it also signals growth on the part of humans.  It used to be "Do as I say or else suffer the consequences," which simply doesn't get parents what they want in today's world.  So we've evolved to a new way - including the child in the conversation as a full participant in the relationship. This is not coddling the child, but rather recognizing him as a full human, capable of so much more than we previously thought.  

With every interaction, we are either pushing our child away or drawing him near.  I haven't come across a parent yet who was upset about being close to her child.  Closeness with a parent is vital to a healthy adulthood for our kids, and the more we recognize that, the better off we all are.  

If you'd like help with this or any other parenting issue, visit  

Copyright © 2019 Center for the Challenging Child/Anu Family Services 


Send this blog post to someone:


I See You Letter

“I See You” Letter

Another tool for helping a child with a traumatized brain, or any child who is asking for attention by showing unwanted behavior, is an “I see you” letter. When something is put into writing, it weighs more. The child can read the message without having to hear the adult’s voice, which is more effective because adult voices have sometimes not proven trustworthy in the past. I encourage caregivers to write the letter in a notebook, so the child can write back, if she so chooses, and review the letter at any time. The re-reading can be very healing. When I’ve encouraged other adults to write this type of letter, they’ve told me that they’ve found it later, stashed in a drawer or other safe spot, but never thrown away, which speaks to its significance to the child.

               You can write a letter to a child of any age. If she is old enough to read, just leave it on her pillow. If not, write it out and read it slowly, then hand it to her.

               If the child is so hurt that listening to you read a letter is too much, try posting notes that say what you see in her all over her room. Use the components below to craft your letter or your notes.
               The components of the “I See You Letter” are:

  1. I see what you've been through (in details that are significant to her, maybe just the things you know she remembers). You may want to add, "And other things, too, that we haven't talked about." This could spark a response where she shares more.
  2. In light of your experiences, I realize that none of your recent behavior is your fault. You were just trying to express your pain.
  3. I'm sorry I blamed you when I just didn't realize that your behavior was your pain being expressed.
  4. Together we'll work on making it better, and here's how: ______

An example:

Dear Ana,

I just wanted to tell you what I see when I look at you. I see a kid who has had some very rough experiences. When you were younger, your adults did not do what they needed to do to keep you safe. No child should have this happen, as every child deserves and needs to be kept safe. Your mom left you with people who hurt you, and your dad left without saying why. That must hurt so much. I want you to know that this was never, ever your fault. You were an innocent child.

I see a kid who is sensitive and smart. I see a kid who is amazing at figuring out other people. I so appreciate hearing you express what you know long before others your age can do that. I see a kid with artistic ability, and one who cares deeply for our pets. When I watch you with younger children, I am so impressed with how tender you are.

I realize I have gotten angry with you and yelled when you were upset with me. I now get that you just felt threatened, and you did not mean to hurt my feelings or disrespect me. I’m sorry and I will try very hard not to yell in the future. If I make a mistake and yell (because we all make mistakes), I will apologize and have a do-over, because no one deserves to be yelled at.

If you feel like writing back to me in this notebook, that’s great. Feel very free to do so. If not, I’m fine with that, too. I’m just happy to be able to use this notebook to say what I want to tell you in writing.

I am so happy you are in my life. Thank you for all the gifts you give me, especially your smile.


Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa/Other caregiver

I encourage adults not to ever mention the letter, nor to expect him to say he read it and liked it. For a traumatized child, this may be too much vulnerability. But what often happens is that adults notice a softening in their child, a better attitude, more affection, more focus, and more cooperation. That’s the goal of writing: to see the child clearly, communicate it, allow the amygdala to register that the child is seen and therefore will survive, watch the result in a much more relaxed and relieved child and in an improved relationship. I often describe this process as being “like physics,” as predictable as proven science. It’s truly remarkable how dramatic the results are! And when you think about it, the seeing is the tool for calming the threat alarm. No wonder the child can now function so much more rationally. The more rational front brain is able to work!

I See You Letter