Trust-building may be an activity you associate with corporate retreats, but it’s an important component of teamwork at any age. Here are the benefits of trust-building exercises for kids and teens, as well as 10 examples of age-appropriate exercises you can try.
When you have a group of children or teenagers — a sports team, club, youth group, or class — a lack of trust can keep them from working together.
Developing trust within the group can help them build bonds, teach them to work together to meet a shared goal, and improve communication and cooperation skills. Even with preschool-aged children, building trust is a fundamental concept of character education. Not only does it help children function more cohesively as a unit, it can have a lessening effect on classroom arguments and behavior problems.
If you’re working with preschoolers, it’s important to understand that children of this age may not entirely grasp the concept of trust. You can explain it like this: When you trust someone, you believe in their honesty and reliability. Then offer a few examples that are relatable to help illustrate this abstract concept.
Divide the group into pairs and designate one teammate as the walker. Set up an obstacle course. You can use things like tables, chairs, toys, cones, or anything else you have on hand.
Without stepping on or bumping into anything or anyone, the walker must move backward through the course. This is only possible with the help of the partner. The walkers must trust that their partner will guide them safely throughout the course. If a walker turns around while on the course, steps on something, or bumps into anything, the pair has to start over. When a team makes it through the obstacle course successfully, they can switch places and navigate the course again.
This activity becomes age-appropriate for younger children if you create an area that requires walking forward to step over, climb under, move around, and go through obstacles. Have the walker close their eyes, or use blindfolds, so that the buddy can guide them through the course.
Divide the group into pairs. One partner will stand facing away from the other partner. After a predetermined signal, the first partner will stiffen their body and fall backward toward the other partner. It’s the second partner’s job to gently catch the first partner and keep them from hitting the ground. As partners become more comfortable with one another, the distance between them can increase.
The Boy Scouts of America use this activity to build confidence and trust among its members. Because it involves catching someone, it should be practiced with older children.
Have the group stand in a circle, hands forward and parallel to the group. Instruct the children to make fists and extend only their index fingers. Gently place an object, like a hula-hoop or a stick, onto their extended fingers, making sure everyone is included.
The goal is for the kids to lower the object to the ground without dropping it or losing contact with it. It can be challenging, and the group will need to come up with a strategy to make it work.
Have the group stand in a circle. Instruct everyone to close their eyes and reach their hands forward to the middle of the circle. Everyone needs to find another hand to hold.
Once everyone is holding hands, ask them to open their eyes. Without letting go, the group needs to untangle themselves from this human knot to form a circle again.
Divide the group into pairs, and supply each team with paper and pen. Have one member draw a picture without letting their partner see. When they’re finished, it’s the partner’s turn to draw the same picture with instructions from their teammate.
The teammate must use clues to help their partner draw the same picture, without sharing exactly what it is. Then the team can compare its drawings.
Divide the group into two teams, with a leader for each. Have the teams line up behind their leaders, one hand on the shoulder of the teammate in front of them. Set up cones for each team.
Leaders must take their teams from one side of the room to the other, navigating the cones. This means the leader must pay close attention to the team, and offer directions to people at the right time to avoid hitting a cone. Make it a race to see which team can finish first. Then switch leaders and repeat. Try to make everyone a leader one time.
Line up the children in two parallel lines, arms extended toward the opposite line. Choose one child to walk, jog, or run through the path between the two lines. The runner should ask, “Zipper ready?” with the group responding, “Ready!” When the runner feels ready, they can announce that they’re ready to walk, jog, or run.
As they move through the line, each member of the group will drop their arms just before the runner gets there. The faster the runner goes, the more confidence and trust they have in the group.
This version of the trust fall involves one child in the middle of a group surrounding them. The child in the middle stands up straight, feet together, arms crossed over their chest, and eyes closed. The children in the circle around them have their hands up, and their feet staggered slightly for support.
As the child in the center begins to fall backward or sideways, the group must gently catch them and push them back to center. The goal is to keep them safe and prevent them from hitting the ground.
Have the children stand in a circle. Place a hula-hoop over the arm of one child, and then ask everyone to join hands. Without letting go, the team must work together to find a way to maneuver the hoop all the way around the circle.
Divide the group into pairs, and have one teammate blindfolded. The blindfolded teammate raises their hands in front of their shoulders, hands adjacent and thumbs almost touching, to create a bumper.
The other teammate is the driver and must steer the car by directing them with their shoulders. Have a facilitator give traffic directions, like school zone, red light, green light, etc.
Trust-building activities can be a fun way to facilitate trust between children and teens. Keep your activities age-appropriate, and avoid pressuring participants into situations that make them nervous. The goal is to build bonds by creating safe scenarios that encourage leaps of faith.
Jessica has been a writer and editor for over 10 years. Following the birth of her first son, she left her advertising job to begin freelancing. Today, she writes, edits, and consults for a great group of steady and growing clients as a work-from-home mom of four, squeezing in a side gig as a fitness co-director for a martial arts academy. Between her busy home life and mix of clients from varied industries like stand-up paddleboarding, energy bars, industrial real estate, and more, Jessica never gets bored.