To learn more we asked Patricia R. Adson, a licensed psychologist and author of A Princess and Her Garden: A Fable of Awakening and Arrival (Lone Oak Press, 2000) for her insights into how to teach children good relationship habits.
"From the relationships around them, children learn how they feel about themselves, how to treat other people and how to get what they need and want in life," says Adson. "Bad early relationships can leave lasting impressions on the child's brain that can be hard and often impossible to change in later life." Here are some tips on how to be positive role models for your kids.
1. Avoid undermining each other
One of the best ways to ensure that you and your spouse are positive relationship role models is to avoid unnecessary conflict in the presence of your children. "Discuss parental matters with each other and agree on the ground rules of acceptable behaviour in your home," Adson advises. "Agree not to undermine each other's decisions and show your kids how to disagree without being disagreeable."
You and your spouse may not agree all the time, and that's normal. But the way that you handle your differences can have a big impact on your children and how they learn to handle conflict.
2. Ensure you're on the same page
Adson also suggests developing additional ground rules about what should and should not be discussed with your children. This is something that will change as your kids grow older, but there are some issues that should just not be shared with the children, she says. Decide as a couple what is safe for your kids' ears and what isn't -- and be consistent.
"Although families should function with some degree of participation by all, a family is not a democracy. In the end, the parents have to keep in mind that they are the parents and their responsibilities are greater than those of the children," says Adson.
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3. Play nice -- even when you're separated
This is an especially difficult one as there can often be some lingering hostility between couples who have divorced or separated. But make an effort to stay civil for the sake of your kids.
"If Mom and Dad are separated or divorced, do not speak ill of the departed. If Dad doesn't show up when he promised to take the kids somewhere, talk to them about their disappointment and empathize with them, but don't badmouth their dad," says Adson. "I'm sure there are few who can manage to follow through on this all the time, but keep it in mind and try. Focus on the child, not the absent parent."
4. Maintain close family bonds
It's not only your relationship with your spouse that your children learn from. "How you behave toward your parents and siblings is also good modeling for your children," says Adson, adding that the more supportive people there are in a child's life the better.
"In these times of scattered families, email, Skype, digital cameras and other electronic devices make it possible to keep in touch and enjoy many positive aspects of family relationships," says Adson. Make an effort to reach out to your family and find ways of keeping in close contact with them.
5. Set a good example
Be mindful of the example you are setting when you interact with others and keep on top of what your children are up to, says Adson. Take an interest in what is going on in the world and discuss it with your children. Actively participate in your kids' schooling and after-school activities, and help them take on some responsibilities outside the home, she suggests.
As a parent it's also important to ensure that your kids aren't exposed to things that could negatively impact how they interact with others. "The outside world can intrude into your life via TV, video games and movies," says Adson, "but you can be a watchdog here with parental controls and paying attention to how your kids spend their time."
"Ideally, if you follow these recommendations, you will pass on to your kids examples of how to negotiate, how to respect differences, how to treat members of the opposite gender and how to handle adversity," says Adson. No one is perfect and there will be times you can't adhere to these tips, but the more you try, the easier it will get.
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