How to Model Healthy Relationships for Your Children

By Jenn Rockefeller

Abusive relationships are anything but healthy. Children born of those relationships will never see healthy behaviors modeled for them. They will not see what a true relationship is supposed to look like. This is why in the aftermath of a domestic violence situation, it’s imperative for survivors to show their children that it is possible to have healthy relationships by modeling healthy behaviors.

These future relationships that a survivor will have can be anyone from their family and friends, to coworkers and potential romantic partners.

What makes a healthy relationship?

A healthy relationship consists of several key factors. Among these factors are mutual respect, understanding, patience, communication, trust, honesty, compromise, and safety.  Children need to see these factors modeled on a daily basis in order for them to have a solid foundation for future relationships.

Why is it important?

It’s important to model healthy relationships for your children because they need to see that most people are generally good. They need to see that not everyone is like the abusive person. It’s vital that your children be witness to the kindness in others. They need to see those key factors in action.

Relationships of any kind are of a give-and-take dynamic. Children need to be shown that there is a mutual respect between people. Relationships take continuous effort. It’s an everyday commitment.

So, in the wake of an abusive relationship, it is that much more imperative that children are shown what healthy relationships look like. Children need to know about setting healthy boundaries. They need to know about the importance of speaking up for what you want and don’t want. Friends, coworkers, acquaintances, and even romantic partners can be abusive, so it’s vital that healthy behaviors are modeled for children in every area of our lives and with everyone we encounter.

How do you model this healthy behavior?

Modeling healthy behaviors for children takes conscious effort. To model the above key factors, you should keep these following elements in mind:

1.Apologizing

For any relationship to be healthy and successful, children need to see how apologies are handled. A true healthy apology consists of three parts: the “I’m sorry,” the display of true remorse, and changed behavior. Just apologizing and admitting fault aren’t the only parts. Children need to also see you offer up how to make it right with the other person. When you are in a healthy relationship, the other person will also model healthy apologies too.

Modeling this healthy behavior for children is important because it shows children that we can admit when we are wrong and that we will make amends to the other person.

  1. Showing affection

Affection isn’t just hugs and kisses. Affection is also having a true fondness for the other person. Children need to see you smile and show tenderness towards the other person. Affection can also be in the words you speak to the person, or in the way you offer to listen to them after they’ve had a rough day.

Modeling this healthy behavior for children is important because they will see that being loving towards someone else isn’t a shortcoming or weakness; rather, it is a strength.

  1. Healthy arguments

Have you ever heard the phrase “fighting fair”? It is the foundation of a healthy argument. It’s no secret that having disagreements is a part of life, but for a relationship to be healthy, we need to model the appropriate ways to argue. In abusive situations, the person will take verbal jabs at us and “hit below the belt.” That isn’t fighting fair.

Children need to see us disagree with others in a healthy manner. That will mean listening to the person air out their grievances, even though we may want to interject our own ideas. It’s important for the person to finish what they are saying. Then, you can relay your own thoughts about the disagreement.

Modeling this healthy behavior for children is important because children see two (or more) people respecting each other’s thoughts and feelings and learn that it is an important part of having a healthy relationship.

  1. Meeting in the middle

The art of compromise is an integral part of having a healthy relationship. Learning to model this behavior can take time and practice. The concepts of active listening and healthy arguments are key factors in comprising with someone. Both sides need to listen to each other and really hear their needs, their wants, and their opinions. Then an agreement can be reached about what solution is best.

Modeling this healthy behavior for children is important because it will teach them that you can’t always get what you want. Sometimes, you need to let someone else lead the way.

Children need to see each of the above in action in order to see what healthy relationships look like. They need to see that having a healthy relationship takes time and effort. They need to know and understand that healthy relationships are based on equality and respect. They need to see you being treated as an equal, rather than how the abusive person treated you.

All the above points also apply to your own relationship with your children, not just in the relationships you have with other people. Give your children heartfelt apologies when needed. Show affection to them in more than just hugs and kisses–like smiling, truly listening to them, the tone of your voice when you speak to them and, if they’re young children, kneeling down to their level to look them in the eyes. They also need to know that you are willing to compromise to reach a mutual agreement, while still maintaining an authoritative parenting style.

It’s vital that in order for you to model healthy relationships for your children, you need to start by modeling healthy behaviors with them.

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