Building Trust With Abused Kids

by John Borgstedt

by John Borgstedt

I’m often asked, “How can I get kids that have been abused or abandoned to open up and trust me?”  First of all, let me say thank you for wanting to do so. I spent twelve of my first nineteen years as a ward of the state and I know how desperate a child in that position wants and needs a trusted friend.

Trust is not given lightly – it is earned over time. Time where you are proved trustworthy and believe me, you will be tested.  Children in this position are always watching you and everything in their surroundings. They watch to see how you deal with others.  In fact, they may pass information to another child to tell you to see how you handle it.  Keep in mind, they have been deeply hurt and will take extreme precautions in deciding to give their trust away.  Everything you do is being dissected, from the way you act day to day to the way you interact with them and the staff. They want to know if you are genuine or putting on a front around others.

Opening up is not easy, trusting someone is even harder.  Some may never open up.  If a child does decide to confide in you NEVER say you understand what they are going through.  They will stop talking to you and any trust you have built up will be gone.  In their mind, you couldn’t possibly understand what they are going through. It comes across as condescending and disingenuous. Here’s my suggestion for how to handle it.

#1) Listen to them and listen some more. 
#2) Ask questions that help them find the best answer to their situation 
#3) Never assume that how they are expressing themselves is a true picture of how they really feel on the inside. These kids are very delicate and emotional inside and want to trust someone to share their hurt and pain. Oftentimes, at the beginning of your relationship with them, their speech will be full of anger. That’s usually a protective mode. Down deep they are frightened and feel alone.  Please hear them out and wait to make judgments after the entire conversation.  Sometimes it may take more than one conversation to see the full picture. 
#4) They live with the fear that others are going to give up on them and they’re not quite sure when or who that will be. Never give them any indication that your time with them will come to an end.  We all know kids move in the system a lot.  Help them while you can and never talk about tomorrow. It’s always here and now.

Be conscious of your behavior.  Even small things like routines and habits are analyzed. For example, if you are usually on time and one day you are late they could very well assume something is wrong in your personal life.  If you get coffee every morning and one morning you don’t they will wonder why.  Are you usually dressed up but this day you come in dressed down?  If so, they might assume you have trouble at home.  Everything you do tells them something about you.  Believe me, they are watching and discussing you with each other.

I hope this helps. I honor you for desire to be a friend to one that so desperately needs you.  If I can be of assistance in any way please feel free to reach out to me.  I may not have the answer but I’ll be happy to brainstorm with you.