For several years now, the term “healthy relationship” has been the subject of much debate. It can be a complex concept to teach younger children. Nevertheless, there are tools available for parents to help explain this important concept to their children, and thus better protect them from unhealthy friendships and/or romantic relationships.
What is a Healthy Relationship?
To understand the term “healthy relationship” it is important to know the behaviours that compose it. The main characteristics are:
- Respect: Respecting a person means caring about them and taking their feelings and needs into account;
- Mutual trust: Both parties trusting the other;
- Communication: Communication is fundamental and requires constant work to maintain the balance in a relationship. It’s important to take in consideration where the other person is coming from and to have understanding and empathy, especially when dealing with conflict resolution.
- Equality: A healthy relationship is not based on the system of domination, everyone has the power to make decisions, and to express their opinions;
- Security: No one should be made to feel insecure or emotionally unstable. There is no physical, sexual or emotional abuse in a healthy relationship.
- Consent: Giving your agreement or permission for something to happen. When you respect your partner or friend, it’s important to ask for their opinion. Consent must be clear, free and informed. A person who is asleep, on drugs or threatened by a third party is not capable of expressing consent. Consent is not just a matter of sexuality and can be revoked at any time. Sixteen is the legal age of consent for sexual acts. In fact, the Canadian Criminal Code considers that a person under the age of 16 is not capable of giving consent.
As your child grows up, they will gradually discover emotions, friendships and relationships. It’s important to talk to them about this from an early age, in a healthy manner. You won’t always be able to control who they are friends with, or who they date, but communicating with them on this subject will enable you to anticipate certain behaviours. If you feel that your child’s relationship has a particular dynamic that you don’t feel comfortable with, you can initiate a conversation and ask certain questions:
- Do you feel comfortable in their presence?
- Do you feel safe, loved and respected?
- How do you deal with your disagreements/arguments?
Teaching your child to have good relationships with others starts at home. It’s important to build a solid foundation from the beginning. Making it easier for them to identify abnormal or unacceptable friendly or loving behaviours, and to know how to put a stop to them.
Establishing a Healthy Relationship with my Children
Here are some tips to help establish an open dialogue and build healthy relationships with your children:
Tip #1: Provide your children with a safe and reassuring atmosphere.
The development of mutual trust within the household can take time but remains essential for the development of a healthy relationship. You can exchange ideas and views from an early age. This approach will allow children to learn, to listen, and to respect the opinions of others. In addition, it will teach them how to manage conflicts and compromises. You can help create a healthy and safe environment, which benefits them as they grow.
Tip #2: Listen to your kids
By establishing an open dialogue with your children, you can teach them to express their emotions, communicate and make decisions. It is important to take the time to listen to their opinions. You can start by asking them what they think or feel in certain situations. Encourage them to speak and express themselves without fear.
Tip #3: Teach them to express their emotions and talk about their feelings
Managing emotions is often difficult for younger children. Accepting the emotion and knowing how to put words to their feelings may seem insurmountable for some. Talking to your children about your own emotions can help them define theirs and show them that they are worthy. This allows for children to explore the world around them with less anxiety and apprehension. Your children are all different, try and recognises what soothes them when the emotion is too overwhelming.
Tip #4: Understanding their needs and concerns
To establish a healthy relationship with your children; it is essential to understand their needs and concerns. Interpreting their cravings when they are very young is not always easy and often requires patience. It is important to show your children that you will give them the time and all the attention they need, whatever their age. Using pictures, sign language, or visual maps can help when they are learning to speak.
Tip #5: Use simple, age-appropriate words
Adults often think that explaining or encouraging their children always requires the use of words. You can find a different way to praise them, show your love, or readjust their behaviour. Find your own way to express yourself, such as a family ritual that’s simple enough to encourage them and give them the emotional support they need. Never forget that your physical presence and gestures of affection are also part of this relationship of trust.
Tip #6: Respect their uniqueness and differences
Show your children that their uniqueness is positive and makes them who they are. Valuing their differences will allow them to have more self-confidence and promote their self-esteem. We believe it is also important to teach them that physical appearance is not important and in no way defines their value or worth.
Tip #7: Provide your children age-appropriate responsibilities.
Children should be involved in family life, respected and understood. This helps to teach them about decision-making, asserting their choices and autonomy. In addition, by getting them more involved they will be more receptive to the family rules.
Tip #8: Setting boundaries
Children need to know what is expected of them and to understand that there are limits that cannot be crossed. Rules and boundaries are essential to guide and teach them how to manage their emotions and behaviours. Allowing them to determine what is acceptable and what is not. It is important to ensure that children understand what is expected of them and that they are aware of the consequences of their actions. Limits and rules should be consistent, fair and balanced.
Tip #9: Help your children understand their mistakes
Understanding why our actions or what we say may not be appropriate, is extremely beneficial, it helps to avoid self-devaluation as well as minimizes the feeling of failure. In addition, it also promotes self-reflection. The dialogue after an argument, can help avoid in repeating the same mistakes.
Tip #10: Remain patient and understanding
Children sometimes push parents into a corner and showing patience and listening can be hard. As they are learning, don’t expect immediate results. Remember, you are doing your best to teach them what you think is right for their development; try to be kind to yourself because building a healthy and lasting relationship takes time.
What to Keep in Mind!
- Start learning about healthy relationships with your child from an early age;
- Encourage your child in what they do well. Using positive reinforcement fosters positive self-esteem, which is an important element in defining one’s own value and one’s value in relationships with others;
- Explain to your child the importance of setting limits and respecting the limits of others;
- Don’t hesitate to explain the notion of healthy relationships through concrete examples and role-playing;
- Be there for your child and maintain a climate conducive to open communication. It’s important to remind them that they can ask for help at any time, without fear, and that they don’t need to face difficulties alone;
- Share anecdotes from your own experiences. Let them know that you too can make mistakes or find it difficult to set limits, and that this is nothing to be ashamed of;
- Talking about consent with your child will help them learn to listen to themselves, to question their desires, to set limits and to accept the limits of others.