Talking with your kids about healthy relationships is such an important part of preventing dating violence, and by being proactive and starting this conversation early, you can have a huge impact on how your child approaches all of his or her relationships. Often it’s tempting to wait to talk about these tough issues until our kids being them up. But starting the conversation from an early age and talking often is the best way to teach your children before they start dating what right they have in a relationship.
There are lots of ways that you can promote healthy relationship behaviors with your kids before they start dating.. We’ve highlighted five topics of conversation you can bring up with your kids to encourage them to respect themselves and others. Each topic includes “teachable moments” where it might be natural to strike up this conversation with your child, some questions you can use to start the conversation, and some “talking points” you might want your child to take away from your conversation. As always, we know that you know your child best, and you can adapt our topics and ideas to your own relationship in a way that feels comfortable for you.
Try talking about these issues whenever you have a chance to be comfortable with your child. You can bring up these talking points at dinner, in the car, or use “teachable moments” from TV, books, and movies to start these conversations with your child.
– Talk about self-respect. Encouraging your child to respect herself or himself enables them respect others and expect it in return.
Questions to start the conversation: What things do you do to show that you matter? Why is it important to respect yourself? How do you show respect to yourself? Some examples with young kids might be: I brush my teeth, I get good sleep, I eat healthy foods because my body is worth respecting. Or, as kids get older: I stand up for myself if someone criticizes me unfairly. Or, I work hard at school because my mind and emotions are worth respecting.
Take-away points: Thinking about respect and what they need physically and emotionally to feel healthy is good preparation for understanding what others need and deserve in relationships.
– Talk about respecting others. Kids need to learn that all people in their lives deserve respect just as they do. Ask about your kid’s experience with discrimination and reinforce that positive relationships mean respecting everyone.
Questions to start the conversation: Have you ever heard someone at school be teased because they were different? How do you think this makes them feel? How can you show others that you respect them?
Take-away points: It’s always demeaning to make negative comments about someone’s race, gender, or sexual orientation. Your language and actions can show others you respect them.
– Talk about healthy conflict resolution and anger control. Help your children to recognize their personal warning signs for anger and talk to them about how they can express their emotions in healthy ways. Help them to understand that anger is a normal part of life and that disagreements happen between people, even people who care about each other. The way we manage those conflicts can result in successful resolutions that strengthen relationships, or in unfair or aggressive ways that can hurt someone. When problems come up in your home, talk to your children about compromise and problem solving, and how to see both sides of a conflict.
Questions to start the conversation: How do you feel when someone gets too aggressive in a game competition? How can you tell when someone’s anger has gone too far? How can you communicate anger with respect?
Take-away points for your kid: It’s never okay to use violence to control someone or to solve a problem. It’s okay to be angry, but anger should be expressed in a way that doesn’t hurt your or anyone else.
– Talk about what it means to be in a healthy relationship. Long before they’re dating, kids can start learning about giving and receiving respect and trust within their friendships. Talk to them about what makes their friendships healthy or unhealthy and use these as jumping-off points to talk about healthy dating relationships.
Questions to start the conversation: What makes a friendship good? What are your friend’s relationship like? Whose relationship would you most want yours to be like?
Take-away points: The behaviors we exhibit are a matter of choice. When we’re in relationships, we have to work hard to make sure they’re healthy, respectful, and equal.
– Talk about what an abusive relationship might look like. Talk to your child about teen dating violence before they start dating. These can be hard conversations, so make sure you’re listening and trying to understand what behaviors your child thinks are normal or not normal in relationships. Talk to your child about red flags (maybe here insert a hyperlink back to “red flags”) in dating relationships and how they could support a friend who’s being hurt. Let them know they can always come to you without fear of punishment if they ever hear about abuse or being hurt themselves.
Questions to start the conversation:
– Why might someone stay in an abusive relationship? Some ideas: The survivor may think it’s better to be in an abusive than none at all, she may want the abuse to stop, but still care deeply about her partner, she may fear how her family will react, etc.
– What can you do if you have a friend who is threatened in their relationship?
– Have you ever seen any kind of abusive behavior between people you know who are dating?
– What would you want from me, as your parent, if you were going through something like this?
Take-away points: It’s never okay to intentionally physically, emotionally, or sexually hurt someone in a relationship, or ever. It’s never the survivor’s fault if someone decides to hurt them. There are a range of supportive resources available if she or he experiences TDV, or has a friend who is experiencing TDV.
Studies have shown that teens who are experiencing abuse are more likely to tell a friend about it than a parent, coach, or teacher. So assure your child that he or she can always talk to you about their relationships, but remind them that there are other anonymous, safe sources they can look to for support. We recommend the National Teen Dating Abuse Hotline, Love is Respect, and/or your local Domestic Violence hotline.