Recently, I led a group of young parents in a case study designed to teach them how to handle a three-year-old when he is throwing a temper tantrum. The parents in the case study were dealing with their first child and made several typical mistakes: one parent spanked in anger and one parent denigrated the other in front of the child.
We dissected the case: what happened, what went wrong, what they needed to do in the future, and how to get there. Towards the end of the session we gained a bird’s eye view when someone pointed out that the underlying issue was one of trust. The whole episode came alive again with new energy as we analyzed the case from that perspective.
The case parents were trying to form a habit of restraint in their child so that they could trust him to practice restraint in the future. When he demonstrates that he can restrain himself their trust in him will grow. If he does not learn restraint, however, they will trust him less.
Ironically, to achieve this level of formation in their child, they need to be able to trust each other to “do the right thing” when disciplining their child. Though they agree on what Johnny needs to do they do not yet agree on what each of them needs to do. In this situation they cannot trust each other yet.
This problem will be solved when they can agree: “You can rely on me to do this in this situation. And I can rely on you to do that in this same situation.” When they can both look each other in the eye and each say this to each other the ground beneath them has shifted. Not only has trust been restored, but the foundation of their marriage has grown and they have learned how to deepen it. When they have solved a string of problems in this way they are well on their way to being great parents and a great couple because they have learned how to grow trust.
No matter what way they discipline their child he will turn out strong because they know it is all about trust. “Johnny, you can rely on me to do this for you. Can I rely on you to do the same for me?” Johnny learns many good habits but, more importantly, he learns the value of being trustworthy.
Given the massive disruption in trust that the US is experiencing in all its institutions (family, church, school, marketplace, and government) it seems that fellow citizens who are opponents on so many issues need to begin their discourse with: “You can rely on me to treat you with respect in our conversations. Can I rely on the same from you?” Without a “yes” there is no point in having the conversation. With a “yes” the ground has shifted— a brick has been laid in the infrastructure we need most: trust.
If we adopt this habit a lot will change. Is there anyone in your orbit with whom you need to practice this? A spouse? A child? A relative? A co-worker? A neighbor?
With an eye to the child, the future of America,
Pat Fagan, Ph.D.
Director of the MARRI Project
Catholic University of America