“Children have never been very good at listening to their elders. But they have never failed to imitate them”. James Baldwin.
Read that one again.
Although it contradicts the ‘do what I say and not what I do’ adage of the older generations, remember, we are trying to break those negative generational cycles where we can.
As a parent, you want to give your child the best possible start. You want to equip them with the skills and knowledge to navigate the world and build healthy relationships. These all sound like parenting goals that we’re all trying to achieve. Sometimes, it seems the easiest way to go about this is to teach them by telling them.
Like most things, the easiest way is often not the most effective. While it is important to communicate with our children, studies and real-life experience reflect that showing them the correct behaviour is what really makes an impact. One of the most important things you can do to achieve those parenting goals is to model positive relationships in your life.
We know children are sponges. How many times has your little one repeated something they have heard you say or seen you do that they absolutely shouldn’t have? (Don’t worry – we’ve all been there!). They absorb everything around them, from the words you say to the behaviours you exhibit. When it comes to relationships, they are especially observant. They look to you and the adults around them as a model for how to treat others, communicate effectively, and build healthy relationships.
Before we give you tips on how to model positive relationships for your child, it’s important to emphasise that you are just a person. Not a perfect one. While you may try your best, you are still filled with emotions, reactions, a past, and some baggage. You’re not supposed to show your child a perfect version of you all the time (how could they possibly live up to that?) In fact, letting them see that you are vulnerable, can make mistakes and learn from them and are human is just as important as showing them the ‘perfect’ stuff. Keep that in mind next time you slip up in front of them and also while you are reading these tips.
Be attentive and respectful
One of the most fundamental aspects of a healthy relationship is mutual respect. You want to show your child that you respect others’ feelings, opinions, and boundaries. This means being attentive when others speak, listening to what they have to say, and responding in a respectful and caring way.
Remember that your child is watching and learning from your interactions with those around you. If they see you treating them with kindness and respect, they are more likely to model that behaviour in their own relationships.
Effective communication is essential in any relationship. It involves listening actively, expressing yourself clearly and respectfully, and working towards finding solutions that benefit both parties.
When modelling positive communication for your child, there are a few key things to keep in mind. Firstly, be open and honest with the other person about your feelings and needs.
Secondly, listen carefully to what the other person has to say and try to understand their perspective. And finally, work together to find solutions to any problems or disagreements that arise. By modelling effective communication, you can show your child that having healthy, respectful conversations with others is possible – an essential skill that will benefit them throughout their life. This applies to communication with anyone around your child, whether it be staff at a restaurant, your partner or your child.
Physical touch and affection are essential components of any healthy relationship. They help to build trust, intimacy, and emotional connection between partners.
As a parent, showing your child that affection is a natural and healthy part of a relationship is essential. This means hugging, kissing, and holding hands with your partner in front of your child. By showing them that physical touch and affection are normal and healthy, you can help them develop a positive and healthy attitude towards intimacy and relationships.
Conversely, showing your child that physical touch needs to be consensual, respectful and appropriate is also important. Having open and age-appropriate conversations about this will help your child combine the knowledge that affection is good when given to the right person in the correct environment.
Resolve conflicts constructively
Conflict is a normal part of any relationship. Let your child see how to handle conflicts constructively without resorting to name-calling, yelling, or other harmful behaviours.
One of the most effective ways to resolve conflicts constructively is to use “I” statements. This means expressing your own feelings and needs in a respectful and non-judgmental way rather than blaming or attacking the other person. (Not always the easiest thing to get right, but let’s call it a work in progress, shall we?)
Another important aspect of constructive conflict resolution is active listening – hearing the other person out without interrupting or dismissing their feelings.
This can be easier said than done. But forgiveness is a crucial component of any healthy relationship. It involves letting go of past hurts and resentments and moving forward with empathy and understanding.
As a parent, it’s crucial to model forgiveness in your own life. Let go of grudges, apologise when you make mistakes, and show empathy and understanding towards your partner when they make mistakes. In this way, you can show them that it’s possible to repair relationships and move past disagreements in a healthy and positive way.
Whether you are dealing with your partner, someone on the phone, a staff member in a store or your mother-in-law – your child is watching and learning. Even your commentary on celebrities while scrolling through social media is heard and taken in.
Always keep in mind that if you wouldn’t want your child to say something to you or treat you in a certain way, then it’s best not to say it about others or treat them that way in front of your child.