Teaching our kids about relationships — friendships, family relationships, romantic relationships and professional relationships — is one of the every day constants of parenting. And it’s one we don’t really think about — much less talk about — nearly as much as we should. Kids need a huge amount of guidance in learning how to manage interpersonal relationships: When they’re good and when they’re not so good, when they‘re new and when they are under repair, and under many other circumstances. And they need it from us.
Do we not talk about managing relationships because we’re so unsure ourselves? Yes? No? Maybe? Is it because we’re so busy and it’s just one more thing? We do tend to talk about relationships more when “something” happens. Wouldn’t it be better to be doing the teaching and talking before there’s an issue? Wouldn’t you like to help your kids to not make some of the relationship mistakes you have made?
Lead by example
The most important thing you can do when teaching your kids about interpersonal relationships is lead by example. “Do as I say, not as I do,” will not cut it! The best, strongest message about relationships your children will receive is when they see you treating those around you with respect and care — even when upset or there’s a difficulty — and taking care to treat all in your life how you would like to be treated.
Whether it’s a friendship, a family relationship or a work relationship, asking yourself, “How would I feel if my child observed this interaction,” will not only help lead you to making careful considered choices in your relationships, but help you convey those same strong values to your children.
When your children have questions about relationships of all kinds — and even when they don’t — talk to your children about the relationships in your life. Talk about how you came to know certain people (if they aren’t family), the ways the friendship or relationship developed, why the relationship is important to you and the ways you keep you bond strong. Not only do kids love hearing these kinds of stories, they are an opportunity for subtle lessons in compatibility, give and take, and how personalities mesh in many different kinds of relationships. These are lessons on connection.
Intervene when necessary
Even when you set the example and talk, your child may experience relationship difficulties. You may need to step in to help your child manage some of the conflicts that do inevitably arise — even with your terrific talking, some lessons need to be experienced! Whether that a spat on the playground, middle school group dynamics or first romantic relationships as a teen, being present, available and stepping in when appropriate helps your child learn and apply your family values, and helps strengthen the bond between the two of you. Your child will know they can always count on you.
Teaching kids about relationships from formation through repair (and occasionally dissolution) typically is a subtle thing, but it should be more overt. Managing relationships is a major life skill. Give your kid the tools and skills to do it even better than you.
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