Learning how to build healthy relationships is an important life skill for children to have. Not only does it develop empathy, confidence, and moral reasoning, but it helps to set a good foundation for relationships later in life.
Here are some ways you can help your child build healthy relationships.
Set – and enforce – boundaries
Parents of young children know that they are always testing the limits of rules and boundaries. While it can seem harmless to give in now and then, too much of this can confuse a child and inadvertently teach them that boundaries can be ignored. Practice enforcing rules at home in small ways. For example, if there is a “no TV after dinner” rule and your child asks to watch a cartoon before bed, say no and stand firm. Or, if you are trying to teach your young child to stop hitting, don’t respond with a laugh if your child smacks you while playing. Standing firm with boundaries and rules helps your child to understand them.
Respect your child’s own boundaries
Young children are still figuring out what it means to be their own person. It’s important to respect the boundaries they set for themselves, even if they’re small. For example, if your youngest child hates being tickled, ensure that your older child doesn’t tickle them, even if it’s done playfully. This will demonstrate respect and empathy for your child, and show them that they are allowed to say how they want to be treated.
Establish healthy communication
Strong relationships are built on good communication, and these lessons can be taught early. Model healthy and respectful communication and encourage your child to do the same – especially in times of conflict. Let them see that talking about their feelings honestly and respectfully yields a better result than anger. For example, you can say, “I feel very tired today and I have a headache. Why don’t we read a book together instead of singing and playing music?”
Not only is empathy key in a healthy relationship, it is also key in conflict resolution, gratitude, and ethical behavior. There are many ways you can teach your child empathy, including helping your child find common ground with a variety of people, reading books about empathy, and modeling empathetic behavior at home.
Ensure your child sees healthy relationships in action
Children learn a great deal by observing the world around them, and being exposed to healthy relationships in their everyday life can help them to internalize the things that make them good. As often as you can, make sure they see your own healthy relationships, and point out examples of good relationships that you see in books, cartoons, or on TV.