Simple Rule #3: Trusting

Judy Jablon and Nichole Parks
4 min readOct 26, 2023

Trusting relationships and interactions are safe and comfortable, and you each know you’re there to support the other. Trust develops in response to the actions and words of someone else. When relationships and interactions are trusting, you can count on others, and they can count on you.

In the October episode of the Leading for Children Podcast, we explored trusting — the third of LFC’s 11 Simple Rules to Create Thriving Communities for Children. We invited our friend and colleague Casey Sims, early childhood teacher in South Carolina, to think with us about building trust within our relationships. We explored three characteristics of trusting relationships and interactions: safety, respect, and perspective taking.

Safety

For Casey, a trusting interaction is one where each person listens and responds with respect: Trust means that you know that you can be your authentic self. You know that you can interact with another person and trust that they’re going to listen to what you have to say and value your perspective. They engage in a way that makes the interaction a positive one.

Nichole also observed how trust grows from respect, emphasizing the importance of actively challenging judgments and biases: Trust creates a feeling of emotional and mental safety. A trusting relationship is one where I can be my unfiltered self. I can trust the person not to judge me and fully embrace me as I am.

Linking Casey’s and Nichole’s ideas, Judy noted: to feel seen and heard, the other person recognizes our value.

Respect

Casey, thinking about a time when she established a foundation of trust in a new relationship, offered:

In the past couple of years, I uprooted my life to go work at a school that had just recently opened. My co-worker was working for the first time in early childhood; she had always worked with older children. She was looking to me. That could have put me in a position of power, but I made a point of practicing the pause and giving her the safe space to ask questions. We had conversations about what she thinks, and I created space for her to try new things. There’s a lot of trust that goes into learning from another person and having them learn from you. Ultimately, the children benefitted from our trusting relationship — we had fun, so they had fun.

In Casey’s story, a trusting relationship grows from her willingness to make space for another’s learning. Her co-teacher was open and vulnerable, acknowledging what she didn’t know and looking to Casey for guidance. Casey noticed her co-worker’s honesty and was intentional in creating a relationship where she did not position herself as the holder of knowledge, but rather created space for mutual learning. She honored her learning partner’s wisdom and autonomy, and they built a relationship that models trust for children.

Perspective Taking

Sometimes, though, it’s not as smooth a process to establish relationships based on trust and vulnerability. Building trust in these cases takes self-awareness, openness to other perspectives, and intentionality. For Nichole, this showed up when she and a colleague found ways to work effectively together despite very different working styles:

Years ago, I joined a new team. I was looking forward to learning in partnership with my co-teacher, but we had very different personalities. She’s particular and structured, and I am not. Things came to head over how to tear butcher paper used for art. She would tear a straight line, but mine was always crooked. One day, in the middle of a disagreement about the paper, we had to stop. The children were looking at us. We made an unspoken agreement to accept each other’s styles. Each day after that, we started by greeting each other with a smile; we started having conversations at nap time. Did I ever tear the paper straight? No. But she was able to embrace me for who I am, and I did the same for her.

Initially, Nichole and her co-teacher looked at their interactions only from their own perspectives. It was when they began to consider other viewpoints — the children’s and each other’s — that the seeds of trust started to take root. Nichole recognized that her co-teacher’s intent was not to criticize her, and her co-teacher recognized that Nichole’s intent was not to be defiant. By looking for positive intent, they tapped into their shared purpose and reframed their relationship in terms of mutual trust and respect.

Tools For Building Trust

As you build trust in your relationships, some ideas that might be helpful are:

  • Create space for others to learn. By showing others that we see their knowledge and their learning process, we demonstrate the respect that is key to trust.
  • Resist the fear to ask questions and seek clarification. The more details and information we have, the easier it is to make better decisions and find solutions.
  • Stay aware of others’ perspectives. When we activate curiosity, we open the door to building trust.

Prioritizing trust across all our relationships ultimately creates developmentally safe environments for children’s learning. As Casey and Nichole shared, children sense whether trust is present or absent in our relationship with other adults. In trusting relationships with other adults, we model trust for children. And in our interactions with children, we can apply the same principles — listening, respect, and openness to exploration — that we practice when building trust with adults. Children feel safe in our presence, able to try new things, and to learn with confidence.

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Judy Jablon and Nichole Parks

Leading for Children is a national nonprofit that empowers adults across the early childhood ecosystem to be leaders and learners.