For several years now, the term “healthy relationship” has been the subject of numerous debates. It can be a complex concept to teach younger children. However, as a parent, you can use several strategies to make it easier for your children to understand, and to protect them as much as possible from unhealthy relationships, whether romantic or friendly.
What’s a healthy relationship ?
To understand the term “healthy relationship”, it’s important to understand the behaviors that constitute this kind of relationship. The main characteristics are :
- Respect : respecting someone means caring about them and taking their feelings and needs into account ;
- Mutual trust : trusting their partner completely, without questioning anything they say or do ;
- Communication : everyone has the right to express themselves freely, to give their opinion and to share their feelings. In a healthy relationship, the partner must be a good listener, understanding and empathetic. They must put themselves in their partner’s shoes, to make conflict resolution easier. Communication is therefore fundamental and requires constant work. It helps maintain a sense of security in the relationship ;
- Equality : no one should be considered superior to the other. A healthy relationship is not based on domination. Each person has the right to express their opinion while feeling respected, and to make their own decisions ;
- Security : no one should feel insecure or emotionally unstable in a relationship. Nor should there be any physical, moral, psychological, verbal or sexual violence in a relationship ;
- Consent : Consent means giving permission for an action. In a healthy relationship, whether friendly or loving, you need to ask your partner for their permission. When you respect the other person, you ask for consent. Consent must be clear, free and informed. A person who is asleep, on drugs or threatened by a third party is not able to express it. Consent is not limited to the sexual aspects of a relationship and can be revoked at any time. The legal age of consent for sexual acts is 16. In fact, the Canadian Criminal Code considers that a person under the age of 16 is not capable of giving consent.
As your children grow up, they will gradually discover feelings and begin to form loving relationships. It’s important to talk to them from an early age to teach them a healthy vision of love based on good values. You won’t always be able to control who they date, whether in love or friendship, or who their partners are, but communicating with them on this subject will help you anticipate certain excesses. If you feel that the couple in which your child finds themselves has a bad dynamic, you can initiate a dialogue and ask certain questions:
- Do you feel good when they’re around?
- Do you feel calmer when they are gone?
- Do you feel safe, loved and respected?
- Can you tell me how you deal with disagreements?
The best way for your children to put an end to an unhealthy relationship is for them to recognize the situation in which they find themselves.
Teaching your children to establish good relationships with others starts with their relationships with you. It’s important to build a solid foundation from the very beginning. This will make it easier for them to identify abnormal or unacceptable behavior, and to know how to put a stop to it when the situation calls for it.
Our tips for building a healthy relationship with your child
Tip #1: Provide your child with a safe and reassuring environment
Building mutual trust in the home may take time, but it’s essential for the development of a healthy relationship. You can exchange ideas and points of view with your child from an early age. This will help them learn to listen to and respect the opinions of those around them. It will also teach them how to manage conflict and compromise. In this way, you can create a healthy, secure environment in which they can grow up with peace of mind.
Tip #2: Listen to your child’s opinion
By establishing an open dialogue with your child, you can teach them to express their emotions, communicate and make decisions. It’s 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 talk and express themselves fearlessly.
Tip #3: Teach your child to express their emotions and talk about their feelings
Dealing with emotions is a challenge for the very young. Accepting them and knowing how to put feelings into words can seem insurmountable to some. Talking to your child about your own emotions can help them define their own. Your child will be able to explore the world around them with less anxiety and apprehension. Since your children are all different, you can try to find out more about what calms them when emotions run high.
Tip #4: Try to understand their needs and concerns
To establish a healthy relationship with your child, it’s essential to understand their needs and concerns. Understanding your child’s desires is not always easy, so it requires patience and rephrasing. It’s important to show them that you are giving them your full attention to what they need, whatever their age. The use of illustrations, sign language or visual cards can help when speech is still developing.
Tip #5: Use simple, age-appropriate words
Adults tend to think that explaining or encouraging their children always requires the sole use of words. With your child, you can find a different way to praise them, show your love or readjust their behavior. You can find your own way of expressing yourself, like a simple family ritual to encourage them and provide 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 tastes and preferences
Show your child that their characteristics are positive and that they make them who they are. Emphasizing their differences will boost their self-confidence and self-esteem. You can also talk about the fact that physical appearance is not important and in no way defines a person’s worth.
Tip #7: Give your child age-appropriate responsibilities
Children should be involved in housework as full members of society, respected and understood. This way, you can teach them to make decisions, assert their choices and be independent. What’s more, it’s been shown that their contribution makes it much easier for them to respect family rules.
Tip #8: Set boundaries with your child
Children need to know what is expected of them and to understand that there are limits that must not be exceeded. Rules and limits are essential for guiding and teaching your child to manage their emotions and behaviors. This means determining what is acceptable and what is not. It’s important to make sure your child understands what’s expected of them and understands the consequences of their actions. Limits and rules must be consistent, fair and equitable.
Tips #9 : Help your child understand their mistakes
Understanding why our actions, or what we may have expressed, were inappropriate is often more beneficial, as it prevents self-deprecation and minimizes feelings of failure. It also helps us learn to question ourselves. Talking to your child after an argument can help you avoid making the same mistake again.
Tips #10 : Be patient and understanding
Children sometimes push parents to the limit, which can make it difficult to be patient and listen to them. Don’t expect immediate results, as they’re still learning. Don’t forget that you’re doing your best to teach them what you think is right for their development; try to be kind to yourself, as building a healthy, lasting relationship takes time.
Key points to remember
- Start learning about healthy relationships with your child from an early age, whether it’s with you, your child’s family or friends.
- Use positive reinforcement and encourage your child to do the right thing. This will foster self-esteem, an important element in defining your child’s self-worth.
- Explain to your child the importance of setting limits and respecting those of others
- Explain the concept of healthy relationships, using concrete examples and real-life situations.
- Be there for your child and maintain a climate conducive to dialogue and confidences. 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 their difficulties alone.
- Share some of your own experiences. Let your child know that you, too, may have made mistakes and had difficulty setting limits, and that this is nothing to be ashamed of.
- Talk to your child about consent. This will help them learn to listen to themselves, to question their desires, to set limits and to accept those of others.