Teaching Our Kids Healthy Relationship Skills
As single parents, we carry relational baggage and unhealthy habits that we can pass on to our kids.
Unfortunately, many of us model unhealthy toxic relationship with our exes. Sometimes after divorce and being away from the toxic situations, we continue in our unhealthy beliefs and approaches to relationships.
The trauma of losing a partner to death can keep us avoiding risking getting into relationships again, or we may foster a relationship built just on loneliness.
Whatever the case, we want what's best for our kids and don't want them to go through the relational struggles we've had.
The truth is that if we don't teach them about relationships, they will teach themselves. There are many sources now such as movies, friends, and social media. Our kids are always watching, curious, and wondering.
How can we teach them healthy relationship skills when we doubt our abilities to be in healthy relationships?
Start with yourself
According to single mom Elizabeth Cole, the first place to start teaching the value of a healthy relationship is through your relationship with your child.
For Elizabeth, it's a mix of learning through her parenting journey, making mistakes and apologizing for them, understanding who her son is as a person, asking a lot of questions, and paying attention to what is going on in his life and the relationships going on around him.
To build a great relationship with your child, you need to allow them to ask questions about things going on in their lives and if you have experienced the same situation and how you handled it.
"I think the biggest thing has been open dialogue, not just within our day-to-day relationship but also talking about it and understanding how they work," she says.
Modeling a Healthy Relationship
As a single parent, you need good people in healthy and working relationships around you. It is crucial because they can serve as role models and a picture of what a great relationship looks like to you and your kids.
According to Kimberly, she had awesome parents who lived close by and godly, supportive couples at her church. They offered support and advice to her, and her kids and they were models of good relationships.
"We were really involved in our church and were surrounded by great, real people. Not everyone is perfect, but I'm grateful they got to see that," she adds.
You can also guide your kids on who to admire, have as a role model, and the qualities to look out for and emulate in people.
Don't put pressure on yourself
The feeling of being the only one to teach your kid as a single parent after a divorce or the death of a partner can make you put yourself under a lot of pressure to perform excellently well as a parent. You might also be overwhelmed with the feeling that you're the only one to care for your kids. But as Robert rightly puts it, "it's more about being deliberate."
The divorce process and its aftermath can come with a lot of drama that can affect the kids and their views about a healthy relationship. However, it’s best to learn how to lean into healthy relationships of people close to you, like your friends. Allow your kids to spend time with them to experience what a working relationship looks like.
Teach your kids to set boundaries and stand up for themselves in uncomfortable and inappropriate relationships
Elizabeth tells a story of how her relationship with her son helped him stand up for himself in an uncomfortable situation in school.
A fourth-grade teacher told her son, who was in third grade, that his hair was dirty even though he had washed it the previous night. Elizabeth wasn't pleased with that, so she discussed with her son how he felt about the negative comment.
During the conversation, he asked her if she had experienced the same thing when she was little. She told him she hadn’t but how she would handle the same situation now that she is older.
She told her son she would walk up to the person and express how their comment hurt her. If the person sincerely apologized, she would settle things and continue a relationship with them. If they were defensive and didn’t care about her feelings, she would know they were not safe and wouldn't have a good friendship with them anymore.
The next day, Elizabeth heard from her son's principal and guidance counselor. They were trying to settle the issue. She was pleasantly surprised when they told her that her son wanted to speak with the fourth-grade teacher face-to-face and tell her how much her comment hurt him. Even though he was given other options like writing a letter, he insisted on telling her by himself.
Elizabeth says, "it's just a good example of him being brave, knowing who he is and setting boundaries for himself and say it's not okay."
Another lesson from this story, according to Elizabeth, is when the teacher first made that comment about her son's hair, the first thing he did was report what happened to his third-grade teacher, and she took immediate action by telling the principal.
The lesson is that he had a safe place to go with the information. "I don't think that I can be the only safe person. There are multiple people that need to be in his life to be safe, and for him to be able to recognize that and for her to follow through is a huge gift," she adds.
According to Robert, when teaching your kids about relationships, you must let them know there are numerous ways to approach communication with others.
Breaking the cycle
Many parents have a bad relationship foundation based how they were raised. A lot of parents come from dysfunctional families that look functional. As for Richard, who grew up in a typical missionary kid's family, there were some things they were not allowed to discuss in the house. Kids don't rock the boat but only go along and comply.
However, for him to raise kids that will thrive in relationships, they had to know that it's okay to talk about some things and know that it's okay to break the status quo. He had to break the cycle deliberately.
To raise kids that value relationship, you must be willing to unlearn. Richard states, "We decide to break a cycle or decide not to break it."
According to Kimberly, learning how to rock the boat can take time.
Elizabeth believes it's very important to allow kids to have their voices heard, say what they need to say, talk about their feelings, question things, and ask why things are the way they are.
Richard adds, "We need to create a safe space for our kids to come up with these questions because if we don't, they will figure things out on their own."
Owning up to mistakes
One part of teaching relationship skills as a parent is to learn how to own up to your mistakes. It is vital to admit your wrongs to your kids whenever you mess things up with them or other people. By doing this, you're teaching them how to make relationships work where there are problems.
Richards says parents are not always required to have things perfect because every form of relationship, romantic or otherwise, is messy and cannot be discarded when it gets uncomfortable. "There are places and time for struggles with people in situations," Richard adds.
According to Richard, avoiding conflicts and making things build-up without addressing them in relationships can make it toxic. This happened in his marriage with his ex-wife.
However, it's okay to have conflicts and healthily approach them, even in front of the kids. What matters is the manner of approach and not the conflict itself. Kimberly adds, "Two different people can have different thoughts and opinions and still do life together." And Robert agrees by saying, "We just can't discard the other person because of difference."
Cutting off toxic relationships
As much as you want to maintain a relationship with a person, you must be sensitive enough to identify toxic traits so that you do not to end up in an unhealthy relationship.
Kimberly and Elizabeth share the same experience of maintaining a distance from certain people in their lives that exhibited the same toxic traits as their ex-husbands.
Elizabeth believes setting boundaries and not cutting them off works well. She noticed that over the years, a person she kept at arm's length grew and became a better person. Elizabeth adds that what helped was being able to step back, get her bearings and understand who she is so that her codependency wasn't playing a huge role in the relationship.
Breaking the codependency cycle
As a parent, teach your kids that they are not responsible for other people's emotions and feelings. For example, tell kids that it's okay to care about people, but it's not their responsibility to worry about other people's feelings. Instead, they should focus on theirs.
Robert adds that it's natural for single parents' kids to want to govern their feelings and keep everybody happy because they are in the middle of two people they love. Parents must tell them they cannot make their parents feel better about a situation. "Being empathetic is one thing, but in a healthy relationship, don't try to manage other people's feelings," says Robert.
Richard believes that you don't have to discard every relationship that doesn't work. It only means that relationships look differently for different people.
Every relationship is not the same. You can have an inner circle of people you can share anything with and still have those that are just acquaintances.
You have to let your kids know that it's okay not to have close relationships with everyone and that they can have acquaintances and close friends.
It's also good to have the 3am friends, someone you can call anytime. "You have to be intentional about valuing, fostering and treasuring those friendships (3am friendships) because they are rare, and that's worth investing in," says Robert.
What to look for in a romantic relationship
You can start teaching your kids other stuff like how to treat the opposite sex. For example, you can teach the boys how to be gentlemanly by opening the door for girls, being kind, etc.
Elizabeth says she's teaching her son about romantic relationships based on his age. So, the older he gets, the more conversations they will have about the topic. However, as a solo parent, you must be deliberate about helping your kids understand what to look out for in a romantic relationship. Also, create a safe place for them to come to any time.
To wrap up, Elizabeth shares a profound lesson she learned in a podcast about the one main thing to focus on in a relationship: listening.
Typically, when people listen, they look out for how what is said affects them, changes their world or bumps into their way of thinking. Then they respond based on that.
However, it is less about how what a person says affects you. Instead, it's about entering that person's world and understanding their experience based on what they tell you. "If we can learn how to listen like that, it will change everything for relationships," Elizabeth adds.
Therefore, you need to figure out how to teach your kids to listen. Teach them how to listen based on how it relates to a person talking to them and not the other way around. Ask t\questions based on that. Teach them to respond with questions rather than statements.
- Start by surrounding your kids with healthy relationships and people that model them.
- Be deliberate about breaking the cycle.
- Be honest and share your fears, hopes, desires, etc.
- Not every relationship is the same.
Hey there, amazing author! I just came across your article "Teaching Our Kids Healthy Relationship Skills" on SoloParent.org, and I have to say, it's an eye-opener. As a society, we often fail to realize the significance of instilling healthy relationship values in our children from a young age, and your article really drives home the importance of that.
I wholeheartedly agree with your point about teaching kids to be empathetic and respectful towards others. This is the foundation for building strong, positive relationships throughout their lives. Your emphasis on open communication is also spot on. Encouraging children to express their feelings and thoughts, and to actively listen to others, helps them build better connections and avoid misunderstandings. It's fantastic that you're raising awareness about these essential skills and encouraging parents to be proactive in teaching them. Your article reminded me of Sunny Days Counseling and Life Coaching, where they help people of all ages develop healthy relationship habits. Kudos to you for taking on this critical topic and shedding light on the importance of nurturing healthy relationship habits in our kids. I can't wait to see what other insights you have in store for us. Keep up the fantastic work! Cheers!