Building healthy relationships must be an intentional practice at every age level, and parents are pivotal in both modeling healthy relationships and teaching their children relational skills with the people in their lives. The resources below give a variety of strategies to practice with children of different ages to foster strong connections within families and other relationships.
This past Monday, Keith and Sara Davis from Just Say YES: Youth Equipped to Succeed presented to Prince of Peace Middle School and Upper School students about building healthy relationships. They shared wisdom they’ve gained over their course of their lives about how to treat each other within the context and understanding that we are each unique and valuable because God made us. Regardless of the circumstances we’ve been handed in life, we can choose our own path toward the future we envision for ourselves and future children. They inspired students to remain strong in their commitments and stand up for themselves when tempted to compromise who they are and the goals they’ve set for themselves. Students were encouraged to see themselves as God’s beautiful creations worthy of being treated well and capable of treating others well. Below is their promotional video as well as a link to more information about them.
Early Childhood Relationships
This weekend, my daughter and I argued about dinner. She said she wanted corn and chicken nuggets, but instead fed both to the dogs via flinging it from her spoon. I tried to calmly explain all the things that you explain to a child in this scenario: it is wasteful to ask for food that you aren’t going to eat, the dogs have their own food and shouldn’t eat ours, and she would be hungry later since she wasn’t eating during meal time. My daughter’s response was much less reasonable. She cried and pointed at the pantry asking for “more please” “more please” over and over. You see, my daughter doesn’t turn two until May, and while I want to say she’s just lacked the logic and wisdom to understand the situation, I also lacked quite a bit of logic trying to explain the above concepts to a hungry and tired toddler. I won’t admit here that I was also hungry and tired, but I’m sure you can imagine that two hangry people trying to negotiate dinner time didn’t end happily. While it was important to teach her those things, it was also important in that moment to understand the bigger picture that toddlers have limitations on their communication skills, self-awareness, and understanding of consequences that frustrates both them and the people around them. Later in the evening, my husband and I talked about it, and I realized that like any person, our daughter is allowed to get frustrated. Fostering a positive relationship with our daughter must account for all of her emotions, and our parenting must help her navigate healthy responses for her feelings. She doesn’t know yet what to do with her frustration, sadness, loneliness, or hangry-ness, and if we’re being honest, sometimes neither do I. The following two articles from Scholastic and Zero to Three outline some simple, helpful ways to help toddlers build positive relationships with people in their lives including parents and peers, and they include easy to implement tips on navigating difficult emotions.
Young Adolescent Relationships
In her first post for Collin County Moms Blog, Prince of Peace High School Teacher, Ashley Ashcraft, opens her heart about sharing our failures with our kids. She poses some tough questions for us as parents: Do we ever make our kids feel like we never make mistakes, so they shouldn’t either? How can we help our kids feel safe to be transparent with us about their failures? How can we be honest with them without glamorizing our mistakes? Her blog post provides encouragement for parents as we navigate the difficulties of our children’s mistakes.
I’ll be honest. Reading through Ashley’s post hit me right between the eyes on a number of levels. Stars dancing, room spinning, the whole bit. Flashbacks to my own childhood and how my parents demonstrated that level of patience and restraint, I sometimes still do not know how. More recently how my wife and I had a similar breakthrough with our older son who had missed his nap, was not feeling good, and chose not to eat enough for lunch at school (the perfect storm). As my frustration grew with defiance and lack of listening, my wife paused and looked at him and asked, “Do you just need a hug?” Then to my astonishment, my son melted into my wife’s arms. He then promptly walked over to me, gave me a big hug, apologized for not listening, and said that he would listen. I then promptly apologized to him for not being a better listener, we had several more bear hugs, which then turned into a tickle-fight, and ended in gut-busting laughter.
But it was not just the correlation to my 4 year old, and how I could definitely do a lot more listening through the discipline when he steals his brother’s toy, pushes him over, etc., this is also what we see every day in the classroom and counseling office. The wonderful and challenging years of lower school are the beginning of the flux that continues on into Middle and High School, College, and often into adulthood of “fitting in while standing out.” For my fourth grade self, it was having the same Adidas jacket as everyone else to be like the cool kid in my class, who turned out to be the bully.
We as humans and God’s children follow the code of Creation when God said “It is not good for man to be alone," and so we try very hard to fit in, sometimes at the expense of listening to others, or hearing versus listening, and we do it with our spouses, kids, coworkers, etc., and our kids reflect us, as the saying goes about the tree and the apple. If we model it to our kids at home and at school, they have a much higher chance not only of success, but of being the gracious children of God we pray they will be every day. And I know I certainly need Grace on a daily basis.
Sharing Mistakes & Failures With My Kids
In the face of grief, many people resort to cliche sayings or rely on our assumptions about grief to help ourselves or the people around us cope. How many of our current beliefs about grief are actually myths? Marylin A. Mendoza, Ph.D., author of Understanding Grief: The Many Facets of Bereavement, gives insight to five common myths about grief to help us better understand ourselves and our loved ones as they mourn. If you find yourself often putting your foot in your mouth when it comes to grief, her guidance will steer you in the right direction.
“The Mourning Booth”
Grieving by Developmental Stages
Last spring my in-law's Golden Retriever died, and it was the first time my now 4 year-old had experienced the sting of death. I was very grateful for Mr. Rogers and Daniel Tiger in those moments, as they had both just been on the day before, and both episodes were about a fish that died. My own understanding of death has more layers and complexities to it when I think about the future without her, how it will affect the family, etc. I also see it with a permanency whereas he sees it as a temporary problem easily fixed by simply “digging her up.” Understanding our children’s developmental capacity for processing information and events like death, dying, and grieving can help us as we relate to them and guide them through it. Included below is a breakdown of what we can generally expect to see in terms of reaction, understanding, processing and conversations with them based on their age/developmental stage. These are of course generalizations, but they are helpful all the same.
Gary Prindiville is the school counselor and a middle school theology teacher at Prince of Peace Christian School and Early Learning Center in Carrollton, TX. Visit the Contact page for more information.
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