Everywhere we go and in everything we do, we interact with other people in all sorts of relationships. There are friendships, romantic relationships and acquaintance relationships with neighbors, teachers and other people in our community. As you go through your daily activities, your children are seeing how you relate to other people and will pick up cues about how to behave in every situation. A big part of teaching kids about healthy relationships is showing them what those relationships look like.
What Are Healthy Relationships?
In order to teach your kids about healthy relationships, it helps to review what those types of relationships are. In short, healthy relationships are based on mutual respect and trust wherein communication, honesty and trust are key, suggests the Center for Young Women's Health at Boston University. For example, in healthy relationships, people have disagreements, but they sort through them by communicating their feelings respectfully. People in healthy relationships are accepted as they are, meaning they're not put down or hurt emotionally or physically and their feelings of self-worth are encouraged, suggests the BoysTown Kids Helpline.
Modeling Positive Behavior
Now that you have some basic notions of what constitutes a healthy relationship, start looking at your day-to-day interactions with your spouse, family members, friends and neighbors. If you find that any of those relationships are less than respectful, you may have some work to do to model positive relationships for your kids. As a first step toward modeling positive relationships, the Indiana Coalition Against Domestic Violence suggests having a conversation with your spouse about the messages you're sending your children through the interactions between you. For example, if you fight in front of your children, that's not sending a positive message. The Coalition also recommends looking at how responsibilities and decisions are handled in your household to ensure that all members are getting their fair say and being mutually respected. It's important to note that if you're in a violent or abusive relationship, it may be time to decide whether staying in that relationship is really helping your kids.
As a parent, you're probably already aware that lecturing to your kids doesn't always go over so well. That's why educators swear by the "teachable moments" philosophy in which you discuss issues or subjects as they come up in real life. In terms of teaching healthy relationships, you might have a discussion about mutual respect when you see a couple fighting in public. You might also watch a scene in a movie or on TV in which the characters are practicing poor communication and then have a discussion with your kids about how they might have done better. However, teachable moments don't have to come with a discussion. They can come naturally when you speak respectfully to a person who has wronged you in front of your kids, or when you send an apology note to a friend with whom you've had a misunderstanding. Praising your kids when they make the right decision in a difficult situation will encourage them to do the right thing the next time they encounter a similar circumstance.
Conflicts are inevitable in nearly any relationship -- but it's how you deal with it that will stick with your kids. When in conflict, keep the tenets of cooperation, communication and compromise in mind. Communicating your needs in a respectful manner can often diffuse potentially contentious situations. When you can't agree with someone about what do to in a particular situation, consider whether there's a way to compromise. When things go wrong, model positive behavior by pitching in to solve the problem. You may not get it right every time, but by making an effort, you'll be on the right track toward teaching healthy relationships to your kids.