Talking to Your Child About Relationships
Learning about relationships starts when children are born. As children get older, their relationship circle grows beyond their family to include friends, peers, teachers, teammates and the community. The picture below shows just how many places your child will learn about relationships from.
Where to Start
Reflect on Your Own Values
Now is a good time to reflect on your own values and behaviours around relationships. Start by thinking about your values and the values you want to pass onto your children.
Lead by Example
Take some time to see if you are using behaviours which reflect your values. Children learn through example, and you are their biggest influence.
Here are some things to show and teach your child about healthy relationships:
- respect: how to speak and solve problems in a respectful manner. This will teach your child how to treat people with respect and recognize when they are being disrespected.
- anger management: how to deal with anger in a positive, healthy, non-violent way
- problem-solving: how to break problems down, find possible solutions and consider possible outcomes for each solution
- negotiation, compromise and agree to differ: how to try turning problems into ‘win-win’ situations where each person gets some of what they want. It is valuable for them to know when to “agree to disagree” and that people are free to have their own view. It is learning to understand and respect others that is important.
- assertiveness, not aggression: being assertive is asking for what one wants clearly and respectfully, without threats or physical force. Assertive communication means respecting the rights of others, as well as your own rights.
Talking to Your Teen About Relationships
As your child gets older, they will start to experience different types of relationships. It’s important that your child knows that no one has the right to force them to do anything they don’t want to do. Here are a few topics that you might want to address with your child and also be aware of as a parent.
Dealing with Pressure
Children may face pressure from their peers or intimate partner to do something they are not comfortable with. Talk to your child about how to be assertive and how to say no. This conversation will help them gain confidence and stay true to their values.
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It is important to teach your child to choose their friends wisely. Talk to your child about the qualities a friend or intimate partner should have. Help your child to look for relationships with shared respect, honesty, loyalty, trust and kindness. It is important to remind your child that their friends should treat them and others kindly. Talk to your child about what a healthy, unhealthy and abusive relationship includes.
People have different kinds of relationships throughout their lives. There are relationships with family, friends, classmates, teammates, and as children get older, sexual or intimate relationships, to name a few.
Understanding the differences between healthy, unhealthy and abusive relationships will help you model and teach your child the difference between them all. The following outlines the traits of healthy, unhealthy and abusive relationships. Most of these traits can relate to any kind of relationship, but a few are specific to romantic or intimate relationships.
- sharing feelings: both people feel safe and strong enough to tell each other how they really feel. Both people are comfortable talking about their feelings and needs.
- communicating: people feel comfortable talking about all types of issues. Each person is also comfortable listening to the other person. Each person shows respect when listening to the other. Non-verbal communication is also important. This includes body language, tone of voice and facial expressions.
- disagreements: each person has equal say in the relationship. They may have disagreements and still talk respectfully to each other. They work things out together, so they both get what they need.
- boundaries: each person understands healthy limits. These include physical boundaries (touching, distance when standing together), emotional boundaries (each partner keeps personal information private) and sexual boundaries (each partner is able to express needs and limits).
- intimacy and sexual activity: both partners can be honest about how they feel about sexual activity. Neither partner feels pressured to do anything they don’t want to do.
- time alone: both people can spend time alone and think of this as a healthy part of the relationship.
- self-nurturing: both partners take time to care for themselves. This includes hobbies, friendships and time alone. Taking time to think about the relationship is seen as a way to help make the relationship stronger.
- verbal abuse: people value the differences between them and work to be non-judgemental. There are no put downs, name calling or harsh criticism.
- violence: there is no physical violence or threat of violence in the relationship. Neither person feels at risk of being hurt or harmed by the other. Both people behave in ways that keep the other safe.
*Adapted from myhealth.alberta.ca
- sharing feelings: people feel awkward or don’t feel comfortable telling each other how they really feel
- communicating: one person ignores the other and doesn’t respect different opinions
- disagreements: disagreements often turn into fights that include yelling, criticism or harsh words
- boundaries: healthy limits aren’t valued. One partner may feel that physical or emotional boundaries aren’t respected or seen as unnecessary. Sexual boundaries may not be talked about or respected.
- intimacy and sexual activity: one partner is embarrassed to say how they feel or what they need. This makes the other person go along with things that they may not be comfortable with.
- time alone: one person thinks there may be something wrong if the other person wants to do things without him or her. One person tries to keep the other to him or herself.
- verbal abuse and violence: there have been a few times when harsh language was used and one person felt at risk of harm, however there is no clear pattern of abuse or violence.
*Adapted from myhealth.alberta.ca
- sharing feelings: one person is afraid to tell the other how they really feel. They are scared of getting ‘put down’ or threatened.
- communicating: one person treats the other with disrespect. They ignore the other person’s ideas and feelings or makes fun of them.
- disagreements: one person is afraid to disagree because they don’t want the other person to get angry and violent. The disagreement is used as an excuse for physical, verbal or sexual abuse.
- boundaries: healthy limits are seen as a threat to the relationship. Physical or emotional boundaries are routinely violated. Sexual boundaries are seen as resistance and may lead to physical, verbal or sexual abuse.
- intimacy and sexual activity: one partner ignores the other person’s needs and wants. The other partner is pushed into doing things that make them feel uncomfortable, afraid or ashamed.
- time alone: one person doesn’t let the other spend time doing things on their own because it is seen as a threat to the relationship.
- financial control: one partner controls the money. One partner is prevented from spending money they’ve earned, are not allowed to keep their own pay cheque and are not allowed to work to make money or access their bank accounts.
- verbal abuse: there is a pattern of increasing or ongoing verbal or psychological abuse (e.g., damaging belongings, name calling, threats to hurt or kill the person or a family member)
- violence: there is increasing or ongoing pattern of pushing, slapping, shaking, choking, punching or forced sexual contact
*Adapted from myhealth.alberta.ca
Warning Signs of Dating Violence
It’s common for teens to have mood swings and to try out different behaviors. However, sudden changes in your child’s attitude or behavior could be a sign that something more serious is going on. If you think this may be the case, talk to your teen to find out more.
Here are some changes you might see in a teen whose partner uses violence:
- avoiding friends, family, and school activities
- making excuses for a partner’s behaviour
- loss of interest in favourite activities
- bad grades
- unexplained injuries, like bruises or scratches
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