There is one thing that we as adults want for our children, regardless of their age; it is positive and healthy peer relationships. As adults, we work to create an environment at home and at school that fosters these types of relationships and supports children as they practice the skills necessary to form trust, confidence, security, and belonging. School is more than just academics; it is practice field for the developing social roles and behaviors. So how do we assist our children in managing through the learning experiences of social interaction? How do we identify and take advantage of teachable moments? How do we, as parents, connect with and assist children through stressful and difficult social situations? The first step is understanding that healthy relationships are based on good communication; communication between you and your child, but also between children. This involves not only language but also understanding, respecting, and caring about how another person may be feeling. So where do we start?
One place to start is the website from the Council of Ontario Directors of Education. Their research helped to develop the Parent Tool-Kit; a collection of ideas, tips, and resources for parents to help their children and teens build healthy relationships. The structure and content stem from parents’ questions and many of the suggestions come from parents. They suggest the following approach:
- Be supportive. Guide don’t dictate. Youth want information so they can make their own decisions.
- Be patient and available. Don’t be discouraged if your first offer of support is turned down as youth will come around when they feel up to it and the time is right.
- Be open. When they come to you, listen, listen, listen!
- Be understanding. Youth learn and grow through failure and mistakes. The important issue is how your and their support systems respond to setbacks.
- Be empathetic. Don’t belittle the feelings of youth or be patronizing. “My feelings are real and important even if whatever I’m going through doesn’t seem like a big deal to you, it is to me right now.”
- Connect positively with your children at every opportunity.
- Help reduce the stress in their lives, this includes healthy meals and sufficient sleep
- Be there: supervision matters.
- Watch for signs of an unhealthy relationship.
- Remember positive parenting works.
Children learn what they live. We as adults model for our children the type of relationships they will have in the future. They watch us as we interact with one another, as we share information, as we support and respect one another in every social situation. We are all teachers and we are all students.