Children learn the most from their closest relationships. Its the people they are surrounded with on a daily basis that have the most impact on how they behave, how they respond to challenges, and how they act in relation to others.
As a parent or primary care provider, it is our duty to teach them the values we want them to have by modeling behaviors aligned with those values. Below are some ways you can model good relationship skills to the children who look to you for support and wisdom:
Speak and act kindly.
When we talk about kindness, we don’t just mean being polite or gentle. We mean offering children unconditional positive regard. This is shown in how we speak to them and act towards them through whatever it is they are experiencing.
Only when we tap into and exhibit this kindness that children can see compassion at work and express kindness to others as well.
Ask how you can help.
Oftentimes, when faced with someone struggling, our first impulse is to try to fix the situation the way we know how. But in order to truly relate to another person, understand their struggle and help them, we need to consider their perspective. What are their fears? What is holding them back? How can they fix the problem their own way?
With our children, the impulse to protect them from every “bad” thing is stronger. But we cannot have them thinking that with each problem, someone will come along and figure it out for them. So, when a problem arises, simply ask what you can do to help. Let them do the fixing and just be there to support them in whatever way they need you to.
Be honest and open.
You don’t need to protect your children from your own emotions. It is safe and healthy for them to see that you, as an adult, you also have your own needs, wants, problems and hardships. Of course, this doesn’t mean you’ll share everything with them. But do not deprive them of the opportunity to learn how to tune in to another person’s energy and how to empathize.
Only answer what is asked: “What’s wrong, mom?” “I’m just having a hard day. A lot of new challenges are on my plate and I’m not sure how to tackle them just yet. But I’ll be fine, thanks for asking.”
Show the value of respect.
How do you teach respect? By giving each other space, especially when one of you clearly needs it. Agree to disagree on certain things, and learn how to negotiate and compromise when necessary.
Simple things like not allowing them to explore your phone without your permission can also teach respect. And if they ask for privacy, give them what’s appropriate for their age and their behavior. Teach them how to be their own person, and how to respect others’ needs, too.
The more we model good relationship skills to children, the better they can understand how being a friend, daughter, student and human being entails. We all have a responsibility to one another as part of this big vast world, and it’s never too early to learn how to play our part.