Building Trust with Kids in Crisis (A Police Officer’s Story)

One of the most profound and gratifying results of engaging with our children with respect is that their trust in us increases, often immediately. In that respect (pun intended), kids are no different from the rest of us. They trust people who seem to “get” and value them. And, like all of us, children are more inclined to cooperate with a person they trust. This is particularly true in a stressful situation when thought and reason are overwhelmed by emotion.
A parent and police officer named Sally shared an experience that illustrates how respect builds trust in a time of crisis. The respectful approach Sally practices was researched, developed, advocated, and codified by my mentor, infant specialist Magda Gerber and is commonly referred to as RIE.

“I wanted to pass along a RIE story from a different perspective than parenting. I follow the RIE approach with both of my children, ages 2 and 5. Acknowledging their feelings, especially fear, has been a game-changer in our house.

I also work in law enforcement where worst case situations are the norm. It’s not unusual to have to remove young children from the home they are in due to dangerous and deplorable circumstances. This is not a responsibility I take lightly, and it is often incredibly difficult to do what needs to be done, knowing the additional trauma this type of removal brings on young children. Children are comfortable being in situations that are familiar, even if those situations are abusive or neglectful. When they are removed from what they know, even if it is best for them, it’s traumatic. I can honestly say I hate having to take children away even though I know good will come out of it. It’s so difficult.

Recently, I removed two siblings. It’s a long story how they ended up in the situation they were in, however, they were basically abandoned by parents with a neighbor who had been taking care of the children for a significant amount of time before deciding she should probably alert authorities. While gathering belongings for these two children (ages 5 and 4), the 5-year-old started to cry. Co-workers I was with were telling him, “It will be okay, don’t cry,” and things of that nature. He froze up and was unwilling to continue gathering his things or follow simple instructions. This went on for around half an hour as belongings were gathered and paperwork was filled out. The child didn’t want to look or listen to anyone. He just sat on the ground and cried. As a mother of a 5-year-old, I thought about how I would help my son if he was scared and sad. I sat nearby and offered, “I see that you’re sad and scared about what’s happening right now. It’s okay to cry. If it’s okay with you, I’d like to sit with you while you cry.” As I sat, he began to scoot closer to me.

Within a couple of minutes, he was propped up on my side and telling me he was scared and didn’t want to leave. I acknowledged his feelings and then told him exactly, step by step, how things would go for the next couple of hours. I explained we would need to get some clothes and shoes and his blanket, then I would put him in my car and buckle him in to a booster seat, and we would drive to my office to meet some friends that I work with. I told him he would be able to play with some toys for a while so that my friends and I could figure out the best plan for him and his sister. He took it all in. He then asked if he would be able to come back to the house he was in. I decided he needed someone to be honest with him. I told him he would not be coming back today, and I wasn’t sure if he would be able to come back. He asked a couple other questions, then stood up, put on his shoes, grabbed his puppy and blanket and went to the door. We walked out to my car and I buckled him in. When we got to the office, I took him to the play room. I sat nearby as he settled in. He mentioned he was sad, and I acknowledged his feelings in this difficult situation.

I mention this story because RIE is helpful in so many situations outside of just parenting. Social workers, law enforcement and emergency medical professionals can all benefit from RIE. Thank you!”

Respecting children means that we:

Talk to them honestly about the situation and prepare them for what will happen.

Recognize and validate their point of view.

Understand and acknowledge their feelings, encouraging emotions to be expressed completely.

Slow down to their pace, providing them the time they need to process the situation and take in our instructions.

Treat even the youngest infant as a mindful, capable, whole and important person.

To learn more about RIE parenting, check out these resources:


Your Self–Confident Baby by Magda Gerber and Allison Johnson

Dear Parent: Caring for Infants With Respect by Magda Gerber

Pikler Bulletin #14 by Dr. Emmi Pikler

My books: Elevating Child Care: A Guide to Respectful Parenting and No Bad Kids: Toddler Discipline Without Shame (both available on Audio)



My posts, especially RIE Parenting Basics – 9 Ways to Put Respect Into ActionMagda Gerber’s Gift to Grown-Ups and How Respect Makes Parenting Easier.

My youtube channel


Please share your comments and questions. I read them all and respond to as many as time will allow.

  1. Kim Ledoux says:

    What a beautiful story. I love how Sally used RIE to comfort this child. Wouldn’t it be great to add RIE training in with law enforcement and social worker training? Thanks for sharing this Janet.

    1. I agree! And as a social worker/therapist in a school, I also see where this could help teachers in our urban or other high trauma areas. It is really part of being trauma-informed. Love it! Thanks, Sally

  2. Loved reading this story, how beautiful is RIE. I have raised my daughter using the RIE approach and by following Janet’s website and I am so thankful I did!

  3. Wow!! Sally, the compassion and understanding that you demonstrated with that child brought me to tears. I just kept thinking, I wish someone would have asked permission to sit next to me while I cried during my traumatizing childhood. God bless you, Sally!! You have made such a positive long-term impact on that child! More than you’ll ever probably realize. Also, thank you for the difficult work you do to serve your community!

  4. I love this story. I work in the medical field and I really want to start using some RIE methods.

  5. THANK YOU !!!

    I am not posting directly to this post, I just had to find a way to contact you.

    We dropped our 4yo off at school for the first time and she blew me a kiss and waved good-bye. ONLY because we have read your books, read your site and listened to your podcasts did we have such a beautiful transition.

    Truly, I cannot thank you enough for your commitment to children and parenting. I loved that I simply said, Yes, you want me there with you, when she expressed this at 6a. By 8a, she was saying, OK, I am ready to go now.

    She was in my lap at 6a, not knowing I was weepy, but being strong and calm for her. I talked about it all just enough, simple sentences and scaffolded her comments. I have separation issues, because of my being tossed out into the world so early and without support, but I am able to see she has a different upbringing and I can celebrate that about her.

    Thank you thank you thank you for helping me re-raise myself, teach my husband and bring love, security, fun and true feelings felt into our home. Of course, the love has always been here for her, but I have been more loving toward myself, less like my own mother, with words of encouragement and true understanding that I am absolutely doing the best I can and my best is working out well for my daughter. I am not putting down my mother: wow, she had it tough and did her best. I feel much compassion for her and am sorry she has passed.

    Thank you for getting up each day and committing yourself to us and the world’s children.


    1. You are so welcome, Marian! You did this. I’m thrilled to be able to support you, and I deeply appreciate all your kind, encouraging words.

      1. A quick update (and the post was powerful! I read it)
        My daughter did end up crying a bit, I was told. At home she said, “It was too long,” and I said I felt sad, too. She asked if I cried and I said I did. She said, You cried? I didn’t hear you (sweet).

        The next morning, in my lap, saying she didn’t want to go, she shared an experience with a kid in class. I realized then she had cried because she is learning to communicate with others and needed my help. I told her I would let her teacher know she just needs help talking with the other children sometimes.

        She listened as I mentioned this to the teacher (she needs help building the bridge of communication with others) and the teacher was SO THANKFUL for my insight. I left there so relieved because I WAS HEARD.

        My daughter did not cry today : )
        Once out of the school she koala hugged me and then my husband all the way home (two blocks–our brave girl)

        Thanks, again! And, yes, I did do it, I put all of your teaching into practice and I love it.

  6. Hi Janet, I loved reading this entry and clicked the link to the other entry from another ER doc and felt compelled to chime in.

    As an ER physician I too find myself caught up in this unfortunate circumstance in children’s lives. I often treat children who have been taken into protective custody just like the ones this officer is describing and it has always been incredibly difficult to try and navigate the emotional and sometimes physically traumatic experience they are going through.

    My daughter is only just over 1y now but I didn’t even realize how much RIE had become a part of me until a few months ago when I was seeing an infant of just a few months old and found myself talking her through my physical exam (“I’m going to listen to the sounds your heart makes now”, etc). I chuckled audibly as I realized I was doing it and also that the child’s mom was looking at me a little perplexed. The more children I see with RIE on my mind the more I am convinced how valuable it is. Whether its talking a child through a painful procedure like getting a blood draw or just letting me look in their ears and press on their belly, I think the respect they feel from a RIE approach creates a trust and comfort that is so valuable. It has truly changed the way I interact with my pediatric patients (and my own one at home!).

    Thank you so much for your teaching, I’m looking forward to practicing it for many many years to come

    1. Hi Michael! Wow, thank you, your comment is so heartening. You are so welcome. Your daughter and the children you work with are very lucky indeed. Keep up the wonderful work! x Janet

  7. Today I was dancing in the kitchen with the Elmo puppet to One Fine Day. I didn’t invite my daughter, just had fun. She jumped up and grabbed my and Elmo’s hands and danced with us. I was hoping she would. Then, she said she wanted me to join her when she went to the store with Daddy.

    You have opened my eyes up to her true feelings, so I am able to be more thoughtful and on target for what she needs. Because she had connected so joyfully with me all morning, her transition to her father needed a bridge. Yes, she wanted to be with me, but I knew I needed to stay home and gather myself, so I wouldn’t check out during family time.

    I suggested to my husband he become a horse and connect with her in a fun way for a bit, before we suggest she get dressed. They played and the transition was successful.

    You have taught me to recognize her true needs and that there are No Bad Kids. I was raised being told I was a bad kid … but, I was just a kid. And, I am so much more aware of myself when I start acting or sounding like my mother. In the midst of being mad at bedtime, my daughter looked at me and I pointed to my mad face and then whooshed my finger in a circle and she watched me go from mad to glad: I had promised I wouldn’t do mad face anymore. Her face lit up and I was able to get in the moment: breathe, stop the noise in my head (not believe it) and remind myself my husband would be back (he had worked leaving me alone for a couple days–I do not have a support system).

    The more reasonable I become, the more reasonable my daughter becomes. But, I now actually welcome and expect and need her blow-ups: release your energy in a safe place with all of my love. I am now taking better care of myself, so I can be completely present for her needs.

    I guess bedtime was the worst in my house growing up, because a real dread comes over me when it approaches. So, I now really touch base with myself to notice the calm during book time, because I noticed how nervous I actually was. I am inviting myself into my adult life where I am no longer victim to the whims and trials of my mother and brothers. It’s cell memory, it seems.

    Thank you for your vulnerability, your revelations, your insight. I am understanding what it means to be a parent and I feel as though I am becoming whole in my practice.

  8. Caterine Parro says:

    What a beautiful and touching story.

  9. I love this!! So helpful to read about real situations – truly stressful. Seems like all police officers who have to do this should be trained to follow the same pattern.

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