Written by Writer’s Corps member Stephanie Perez
On a recent weekday morning, I could feel myself struggling to not lose my patience as I worked through the chaos of getting my family ready and out the door on time. We were running late and I could feel the pressure building inside of me as my 7-year-old son very slowly got ready for school. To add to the tension, my 2-year-old son was running through our apartment on an apparent mission to knock over everything within his reach. Suddenly, I started to feel angry and I started to yell. I instantly did not feel proud of what I said or how I said it, and my children’s bewildered and frightened looks just dug it in more. Despite the pressure I was under, I knew that I was wrong for expressing – my frustration that way. Later that day when I picked up my older son, I made sure that we talked about what had happened that morning and I said, “Mommy was wrong for yelling and saying what she said. I promise to do better.”
This experience reminded me that, at some point or another, we may miss the mark and act in a way that we may not be proud of, either with our children or with our partner. This does not mean that we are abusive, but we can definitely do better.
Why is this important to think about as a parent? Our children are like sponges, absorbing everything around them. The behavior and habits children are exposed to, especially in their younger formative years, can become behaviors that they mimic in their adult relationships. In other words, we have to teach them — and model for them — what healthy looks like. We may already avoid more obvious forms of unhealthy relationship behaviors in front of our children, but there are more subtle types of behaviors that can have as great of an impact on them. Here are 5 common unhealthy relationship behaviors that we can replace with healthier ones so we can #LoveBetter for our children:
1. Using the Silent Treatment When Upset
What it looks like: When a person gives you the silent treatment they act as if you don’t exist. This unhealthy behavior is a result of an inability to express hurt feelings or an unwillingness to talk about it. This behavior is simply a destructive nonverbal way for one person to express anger, to gain control over another person, or to punish them over a perceived wrong or injustice. Although it is definitely not a good idea to have a heated argument in front of your children, non-verbal aggression, such as the silent treatment, can be just as upsetting to children. They are just as in-tune with what we say and what we don’t say.
Replace with this healthy behavior: Talk it out. This might mean taking the time to cool down before discussing whatever issue is at hand. If you feel that your actions may have contributed to your partner or child withdrawing from you, acknowledge this and take ownership of your actions. Reassure your partner that you care about how they feel and be willing to compromise in order to reach a resolution.
What this teaches our children: Conflict is a part of every relationship. The key here is how we navigate that conflict. When we use the silent treatment to deal with conflict we are teaching our children that it is ok to manipulate and control another person when they do something that we don’t like. If we model how to navigate conflict by talking things out and reaching a resolution, we teach our children to respect the feelings of others and to be more in tune with their own feelings and actions.
2. Not Being Supportive
What this looks like: You are having a discussion with your partner and you think that they are overreacting. Your response: roll your eyes and walk away from them. Your child comes home from school and tells you that they want to try out for the basketball team. Your response: “I don’t know how that’s going to go, but ok….” These responses are examples of how we can, perhaps unwillingly, not be supportive of our loved ones. When we easily dismiss their feelings or express a lack of enthusiasm for their goals and interests we are not being supportive.
Replace with this healthy behavior: Be Supportive and Offer Encouragement. Show empathy and acknowledge your partner’s or children’s feelings, and reassure them that what they feel is important to you. You can also show support by being your partner’s or children’s biggest cheerleader. When they bring up a topic they are interested in, show interest by making eye contact with them. If they are excited about something, be excited with them. And when they talk about something that they would like to try or accomplish, encourage them to go for it and help them figure out a way to make it happen.
What this teaches our children: Being supportive is an important part of any relationship. By modeling this to our children we are helping them learn an important part of what it means to be a friend or partner, and this, in turn, will help them to have healthy relationships in the future. They will learn to be empathetic, to offer encouragement, and to be the type of person that lifts up, rather than knocking down, those around them.
3. Holding Grudges instead of Forgiving
What this looks like: You are just so upset that your partner forgot about your anniversary… It’s understandable to be upset…except that this happened over a year ago already. We are human, and we are bound to feel upset or disappointed at some point or another in our relationships. However, when you hold a grudge, you are not only hurting the other person by continuing to “punish” them with your grudge, you are also hurting yourself by constantly reliving whatever upset you. This is not only bad for your health but also an incredibly heavy load to carry.
Replace with this healthy behavior: Be Willing to Forgive. Forgiveness does not mean that you condone actions that are wrong; it’s about letting things go and accepting that we are all works in progress. It is not easy to let go of the pain or anger you might feel from someone else’s actions, but by doing this you help to create a more secure environment at home for your children. So instead of allowing tensions to simmer, talk it out, share your hurt and then working on letting it go rather than holding on.
What this teaches our children: We will help our children have a clear understanding of what it means to forgive. Forgiveness shows that we can accept that people make mistakes. By showing our children how to forgive and what it means, we are helping them to acquire one of the most important skills that they will need to have happy and healthy relationships.
4. Not Admitting our Mistakes and Apologizing
What this looks like: We would all like to believe that we are flawless, but the truth is we make mistakes. Whether it’s an insensitive comment or eating up the leftovers your partner saved, there will be times that your actions will upset someone you love. When you refuse to apologize, you are telling your loved one that you don’t care about their feelings.
Replace with this healthy behavior: Learn to Apologize Sincerely. Offering a genuine apology eases tensions and helps to bridge people together, and can be a catalyst for growth. When we take the time to analyze how our actions made our loved one feel and offer up a sincere apology, we become more self-aware and this can help us be more mindful and intentional in our relationships.
What this teaches our children: When we model how to apologize sincerely to our children, we are teaching them to learn to take responsibility for their own actions. We also teach them that people are bound to make mistakes, but they can repair them by acknowledging hurtful behavior and sincerely apologizing. By teaching our children to be self-aware and how to apologize, we are giving them the tools they need to build authentic and meaningful relationships in the future.
5. Not Respecting Each Other’s Privacy
What this looks like: Your partner fell asleep and you notice that their laptop is open. Is it ok to go through their emails? Or, what if your teenager left their phone out? Do you feel tempted to go through their social media accounts or scroll through their texts? Are you tempted to spy on your teenager by tracking their movements? If they have nothing to hide, what’s the big deal? It may seem harmless but if you feel the need to go through your loved one’s things, it may be because your relationship lacks trust or that you feel insecure.
Replace with this healthy behavior: Setting Healthy Boundaries. Setting healthy boundaries doesn’t mean that there is anything to hide. It is a basic right that we all have, and we shouldn’t feel or be forced to give it up to be in a relationship. Obviously, younger children need more supervision, but as they grow they will feel the need to have some privacy. As your children grow, give them opportunities to show that they are responsible. As they meet your expectations, you can allow them more freedom and space. The best way to know what is going on in your child’s life is to have them tell you, and they are not going to want to do that you are spying on them.
What this teaches our children: By setting healthy boundaries at home, we are teaching our children that healthy relationships are built on trust.
These are just some ways that we can teach our children what healthy relationships should look like. If we all do our part to #LoveBetter maybe we can be a part of the change we want to see, and help to create a more loving world.