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Still Have the Key? The Value of a Child’s Trust

Years ago, my 17-year-old stepped into my office at home and noticed a pair of handcuffs sitting on my desk. He picked them up and gestured, “What are you doing with these?”

I explained I had borrowed them from the sheriff. An artist friend was going to make a graphic of them for use in a training program I was doing on codependency.

“So you have a key for these, Dad?” he asked.

“Yes; I do,” I mumbled as I hit “Save” on what I had been writing.


handcuffsImmediately, he slapped the handcuffs down over both wrists.

“Jamie!” I gasped. “I do have the key for those, but I never said I had it WITH me. What on earth are you going to do if I tell you the key is in my office in San Antonio?”

The boy never blinked. He held out his hand.

“Dad, you would NEVER let me slap these cuffs on myself if you didn’t have the key with you.”

I dug into my pocket and passed him the key.

Risky Business?

I’m not suggesting every kid get the feel of a pair of handcuffs. (After all, some risks are better than others.) But here was an example of a reasonably safe and spontaneous venture into risk-taking.

Spontaneity in our children can be a good thing. It means they’re not so consumed and careful with planning their every move that they drain life of every drop of fun. (Kids that are always overly cautious don’t make happy campers and, as adults, they don’t change much.)

If a kid can’t enjoy being a kid, what’s the point in being one?

A Deeper Message

In this handcuff-modeling scenario, my son demonstrated something I would never want to see tarnished: He trusted me absolutely.

How valuable is that? How precious is a son’s or daughter’s absolute trust? It’s valuable enough to help a youngster feel a little more secure in a world that’s pretty shaky sometimes. It’s also valuable enough for a child to know that, through all the normal ups and downs of being part of a family, a parent’s intent and desire for his or her well-being rests on solid ground.

Isn’t it fortunate we don’t have to be graduates of The School of Perfect Parenting in order to have that kind of trust from our children?

But I do recommend you keep that key in your pocket, just in case.



A nationally recognized child and adolescent psychologist, author and speaker, Dr. James Sutton is in demand for his expertise on emotionally and behaviorally troubled youngsters, and his skill for sharing it. He the founder and host of The Changing Behavior Network, a popular internet radio program supporting young people and their families, and every month he publishes The Changing Behavior Digest, offering tips on managing difficult children and teens. Both resources (and others) are available at no cost through his website,

May 8, 2013 Posted by | Uncategorized | Leave a comment