In The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, Stephen Covey wrote extensively about trust, calling it the foundation of all relationships. How do we integrate trust into our families so that we create a tight network of safety and connection for our children?
In its simplest and yet most profound form, to develop trust, we must be trustworthy.
In their work with elementary school students, the nonprofit Peaceful Project invites each student to make a trust agreement with every student in the class. The students say the agreement aloud to one another. There are four components, and the agreement begins with, “I can be trusted because …”
I will listen to you. Everyone — adults and children — desires to be heard. In listening, we let go of any agenda we may have as well as any distractions. We focus on the other person.
I will not talk about you behind your back. One of the easiest ways to undermine trust is to talk about someone behind their back. This may be the most challenging of the agreements to uphold. When big feelings come up about what someone has done or said, it is easy to want to talk about it with someone else. In doing so, we may blame the other person and fuel those big feelings even more. Refraining from talking about someone behind their back requires practice. It requires a new way — talking to them face to face.
I will respect you. This agreement can inspire some great family discussions on what respect means to each member of your family because it might differ for everyone. Have your family members share what they mean by respect and how they wish others to show respect for them.
If I have a problem with you, I will come talk to you. Talking with the person with whom you have an issue is how problems are solved. It also supports the second agreement. Going directly to someone can be challenging for children, so model it for them. Guide them to kindly discuss differences.
Teachers have reported to the Peaceful Project that the trust agreement has created greater unity in their classrooms. Students peacefully handle issues with one another without teacher intervention. There is greater cooperation, less gossip and enhanced respect. Students are more at ease entering the classroom each day.
Imagine you have just heard someone say to you, “I can be trusted because I will listen to you. I will not talk about you behind your back. I will respect you. If I have a problem with you, I will come talk to you.” How do you feel? Pretty great, right?
Consider making the trust agreement in your family. When there are disagreements or upsets, make the trust agreement again. Every few months, make it once more. It is not a one-shot deal. Making this agreement creates an almost audible exhale and a great sense of safety. By practicing it over time, the results can be profound.
As William P. Young said, “Trust is the fruit of a relationship in which you know you are loved.” Isn’t that exactly what we want to create for our children?