Article By Brooklyn Raney, Guest Expert and author of the book One Trusted Adult.
5 Minute Read
The power of one trusted adult in a child’s life is great, and the combined power of many trusted adults is even greater. The good news is that every adult can build the competence and capacity to show up as a trusted adult for young people!
When a young person comes to you because they have a worry or concern, need something, want to share exciting news, are looking for advice, or any of the many other reasons they might seek you out, you have three options: exploit, ignore, or embrace.
The sad reality is that some adults will exploit their relationships with children. This is why it is so crucial to teach children about boundaries from a very early age.
Teaching young people what is okay and what is not okay, how to voice their discomfort, and who to talk to if they feel something isn’t right is as important as potty training and learning to count.
When a young person voices their boundaries, whether it is because they don’t want a hug, don’t want to wear certain clothing, or don’t want to play a game, it is important to honor their wishes (as long as the issues are negotiable—refusing all vegetables at the dinner table doesn’t qualify as expressing boundaries!). When children express their boundaries in small moments with trusted adults at home and receive reinforcement that those boundaries will be honored, they continue growing the courage they need to express their boundaries outside of the home.
In some cases, adults ignore (sometimes inadvertently) the potential of the relationships they might have with young people. This is when we can slip into doing things for young people instead of doing them with them, and interactions become transactional rather than transformational.
Small daily interactions with adults who are consciously sending the child a message that they are needed, that they belong, and that their voice matters is how children learn to value themselves and their contributions. From a teacher greeting a student warmly as they arrive at school, to a parent asking their child for help with household chores, to a server in a restaurant asking the young person directly what they would like to eat, each adult has an opportunity to shape a child’s outlook that is too big to ignore.
What is best for a child is a team of trusted adults seeking to embrace the opportunity for connection. It means showing up using the ABCs: Accessible, Boundaried, and Caring in all places and spaces.
Starting at an early age, engage young people in conversations about how trusted adults at home, at school, and in the community look, sound, and act when they are:
When young people have strong and healthy connections with parents and guardians who have embraced their role as a trusted adult, they are more likely to build relationships with trustworthy adults outside the home.
Talk to children and students about who they identify as trusted adults in their lives. Use questions like:
Tell them about the trusted adults who showed up for you when you were their age and how they lived the ABCs.
Teach the definition of a boundary - guidelines, rules, and limits for how we interact with each other. Reinforce this definition by continually identifying boundaries in action, and modeling how you set boundaries and how you respect other people's boundaries.
Parents: Get to know and engage with the other adults in your child’s life. Thank them for showing up as a trusted adult for your child, and consider how you might show up as a trusted adult for other people’s children.
Brooklyn is the Founder and Lead Trainer of One Trusted Adult, an organization that provides programming for educators, parents and young people, to ensure that every young person has at least one trusted adult.
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