How to teach healthy relationships

children and teachers hugging in classroom

Early childhood is the best time for children to develop social-emotional skills and form healthy bonds with adults and peers. To teach healthy relationships, you can:

  • Model respect
  • Define boundaries
  • Teach effective communication
  • Disprove stereotypes
  • Explain unhealthy relationships

Model respect

You can’t capture the concept of respect for a child with a formal definition. Instead, start by asking them what they think respect is. Ask them for examples of it. Provide examples of how you model respect and what it looks like in the classroom. Children who show respect don’t yell or talk over others, don’t ignore others even when they disagree, and don’t try to control others. You also might find it beneficial to include how children feel when they are respected—safe around their classmates and teacher, free to talk about their wants, and unafraid of admitting they’ve made a mistake.

Define boundaries

Boundaries can protect children and help them build healthy relationships that align with their needs and values. To help them define their boundaries, you must first help them get in tune with their feelings. While a child might experience difficulty expressing their feelings, guide them through talking about their likes and dislikes. When dealing with a situation, ask them to point out what feels bad or uncomfortable. 

The next step is giving them the tools to express their boundaries to others. Teach them to say “no” if they don’t want to do something. Help them understand the importance of using clear and firm language. No doesn’t mean “yes” or “maybe” — no means no. By teaching young children to set boundaries and respect those of others, you’re giving them the tools to build healthy, lasting relationships.

Teach effective communication

Communication is key to establishing a healthy relationship. You can help them form these relationships by guiding them through verbal and non-verbal communication. You can incorporate lessons on turn-taking, the “three gates of speech”, and listening and speaking procedures.

Turn-taking can help children understand the natural back-and-forth of conversations. The “three gates of speech” is a practice children and adults can use to ensure their words help rather than cause harm. Before your children speak, tell them to let their words pass through three gates where they ask themselves the following questions: Is it true? Is it necessary? Is it kind?

Effective communication also includes how you teach a child to listen and respond. The SLANT strategy is a teaching prompt to guide children to become efficient learners. The acronym stands for: Sit up. Lean forward. Ask and answer questions. Nod your head. Track the speaker.

Disprove stereotypes

Teach your children to avoid stereotypes and embrace diversity. Whether they get the stereotypes from home or the media, they can lead to unrealistic expectations of others. Debunk any stereotypes they might have about different genders, races, cultures, and more. Encourage boys and girls to play together and celebrate what makes the children different. Guide them to understand and appreciate individuality and diversity. Teach them that everyone deserves respect regardless of their likes, dislikes, and opinions. 

Explain unhealthy relationships

One way of teaching healthy relationships is by teaching about unhealthy relationships. Giving children the information to compare them can help them identify the differences and decide whether they have healthy relationships with adults and peers. In this case, providing examples of an unhealthy relationship is easier. For example, these relationships can include name-calling and insults, dishonesty, intimidation, and violence. Unhealthy relationships can be a heavy topic for children and adults, so check in with your children and offer support along the way.