Trust versus Mistrust

Last night, one of my teacher friends was discussing how she had four students who recently were really acting out. She mentioned that the teachers reminded them that as teachers, they had been doing a lot for these boys and yet, they were acting out. 

That got me thinking about children who have not been treated with kindness on a regular basis and how they react when it’s finally given.  I will give you an example that is similar but on a perhaps smaller scale. 

When I was a child, I recall my brother coming home from the Marines for a visit.  While home, my birthday came around.  I am from a family of 12 kids, and I am number 11.  We didn’t have big birthday events for our birthdays or even cake.  It was just not something that I recall happening on any sort of regular basis. 

That year, my brother gave me a gift.  I still remember the toy and the feeling of getting the gift to this day.  He had given me a gum ball machine.  I would not play with it even though he had told me it was mine.  I remember him helping my dad roof our home on that hot summer day.  He was talking to me from the upstairs window. He asked me if I had played with the gift.  I said no.  He asked me why not.  I could not answer.  I am almost sure he must have thought I didn’t like it or that I was ungrateful. 

After he left and went back to the Marines, I started to look at the gum ball machine and play with it. All the while, I kept thinking it was going to be taken away from me.  You see, I was number 11, not number 12.  My older siblings adored my younger sister and they brought her presents and candy when they went out and about, but I was not given those things.  When I made the assumption, the treats were for me, they laughed at me. 

This gift, I kept thinking will be taken away from me. I didn’t play with it because it would make me vulnerable to be hurt.  I was in protective mode and trying to save myself from hurt.

I eventually did play with the gift and enjoyed it so much.  To this day, I don’t know if my brother even knows how much that gift meant to me. 

This story was about how siblings can be difficult with their younger siblings, but what if the situation were about parents with a child? What if the child felt that they could not trust the adults that they lived with because it would make them vulnerable?  What if kindness shown in a home would be temporary and just when you dropped your guard, it would be taken away again?

This is what many of the children in our school system are dealing with. I work with both children and parents who are trying to break out of this feeling of mistrust.  One parent shared that she didn’t understand why her child was reacting negatively to being treated differently by her in therapy.  Her eyes were opened when I shared with her that he expected negativity. He knew negativity and how to react to it and what would happen next. When she offered something different, he moved with caution and tried to push her back to the negativity that was now what he considered comfortable.  It would take time to allow himself to trust and to be vulnerable and allow the positivity to grow.

I share this with you all today so that if you are showing kindness to someone and they don’t react quite how you expected, that you might consider this.  Keep working on kindness with that person.  It might take time to create the trust and the change. 

As far as my siblings, don’t worry, I got back at them!  They weren’t allowed to take one gumball out of my machine unless they were nice to me.  That kept up until I ran out of gumballs.  Luckily, we all grew out of those patterns and learned to appreciate one another and trust the kindness. 

girl wearing green knit shirt
Photo by kelvin octa on

2 thoughts on “Trust versus Mistrust”

  1. Thank you so much for this helpful illustration, Esther. I think that when we have experienced suffering on a regular basis it can be difficult to let in joy and goodness. I have an acquaintance who is a gifted teacher who is always saying, “There’s always a reason for kids’ behavior.”

    1. You are very welcome and I totally agree with your friend. Kids want to please adults. If they are acting contrary to that, there is usually a reason. Sometimes, it’s hard to see that in the moment. Thank you for your reply. Please feel free to share our blogs.

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