Teaching Children about Healthy Social Interactions
As parents, we are responsible for teaching our children how to be healthy, happy, productive adults in our society. Healthy social interactions are key drivers in their personal and professional experiences as adults, so we want to teach our children how to have healthy social interactions. Here are a few tips on three basic elements of maintaining healthy social interactions.
Everyone says or does things from time to time that unintentionally inconvenience or hurt others. When this happens, we should “own” our behavior and its consequences, apologize, and (where appropriate) promise not to repeat the behavior.
To teach our children to apologize, the first step is to lead by example. Our children must observe our apologies to people we have inconvenienced or hurt. Additionally, they must receive our apologies when we have inconvenienced or hurt them. They must see that they can admit error and still be ok as human beings. For example, if we accidentally step on Chrissy’s toes, we can say, “Oh, Chrissy! I’m so sorry! I simply wasn’t paying attention to where I was walking! Are your toes ok? I feel badly that I hurt my baby girl! I will have to be more careful going forward!” (Side note: social reinforcement of apologies is important. Our children need to see friends and family members give and receive apologies graciously. This will reinforce the behaviors that we exhibit.)
The second step is to prompt apologies from your children when the apologies are not otherwise forthcoming. For example, if Johnny accidentally bumps into Janie, which causes Janie to fall down, and Johnny does not issue an immediate apology, our parental response should be, “Johnny, what do you say to Janie?” If Johnny still does not issue an apology, our parental follow-up should be, “Johnny, I know you didn’t intentionally push Janie down. It was an accident. You need to apologize to Janie, just like you would expect Janie to apologize to you if she had accidently bumped into you and caused you to fall down.”
When our children apologize without prompting, we should privately praise them. For example, if we hear Johnny issue a prompt apology to Janie in the situation in the paragraph above, we could pull Johnny aside after the moment had passed and say, “Johnny, I heard what you said to Janie. You did a great job ‘owning’ your accident and apologizing for it. I am just so proud to be your mom.” We should never respond to an apology with a condemning statement (i.e., “You seriously need to watch where you’re going before you mow over other people, you klutz!”)
Constructive Conflict Resolution
Everyone experiences conflict from time to time. When this happens, we should peacefully and empathetically seek conflict resolution.
To teach our children to peacefully seek conflict resolution, the first step is to lead by example. Our children must observe our conflict resolution-seeking behaviors. Additionally, they must receive our conflict resolution-seeking behaviors when our conflicts are with them. They must see that they can experience conflict and not escalate it to a full-blown emotional melee. For example, if Chrissy wants to wear her ballet outfit to kindergarten, and we prefer her to wear something more appropriate to school, we may say, “Chrissy, I see that you really want to wear your ballet outfit to school today, and it is a really pretty outfit, but it’s cold outside and you might catch a chill. Besides, your ballet outfit goes against your school’s dress code. So, let’s pick out an outfit that you can wear to school, and then you can wear your ballet outfit all evening tonight, at home, ok? Would that be an acceptable compromise?” (Side note: social reinforcement of constructive conflict resolution is important. Our children need to see friends and family members engage in constructive conflict resolution as well. This will reinforce the behaviors that we exhibit.)
The second step is to prompt constructive conflict resolution techniques from your children when they are not otherwise forthcoming. For example, if Johnny and Janie experience conflict over who should play with a certain toy right now, our parental response should be, “Can you two play the toy together? Or take turns playing with it? The toy belongs to both of you, so you two need to be able to share.” If Johnny and Janie still do not constructively engage in conflict resolution-seeking behavior, our parental follow-up should be, “I know you two are grown-up enough to find your own resolutions. However, if you can’t find a way to come to resolution on this, I will have to find a resolution for you. If that happens, I will take the toy away from both of you until you are old enough to handle sharing toys. I’m hoping that you are old enough now. Are you?”
When our children constructively resolve conflict on their own, we should privately praise them. For example, if we hear Johnny and Janie calmly and successfully negotiate play time with their shared toy, we could pull them aside after the moment had passed and say, “I heard what you two said to each other when you were negotiating play time with your shared toy. You both did a great job staying calm and focused on resolving the conflict. I am just so proud to be your mom.”
Dealing with Bad Influences
Everyone is exposed to bad influences from time to time. When this happens, we should identify “bad influences” as ones that we do not want to impact our world and be able to distinguish between judging the behavior adversely and judging the person adversely.
To teach our children to effectively deal with bad influences, the first step is to lead by example. Our children must observe our handling of bad influences. They must see our long-term perspective and kindness as we distance ourselves from bad influences. For example, if our brother is an active alcoholic, we may say to our children, “Uncle Bobby is having some difficulty. You’ve seen him drink a lot at family gatherings, and you’ve seen him stumble, fall, have trouble speaking, and all kinds of other stuff. You need to know that Uncle Bobby is a kind-hearted man. He just has an addiction to alcohol. I know that’s a little hard for you to understand right now, but when you are older, it will make a little more sense. Anyway, it’s ok to love Uncle Bobby but not love his behaviors. We don’t want you to think that drinking a lot is a good thing. We don’t have Uncle Bobby over often because we don’t want to be exposed to drunkenness. However, Uncle Bobby knows that we love him and that he can come over whenever he wants when he’s sober. And you’ve seen us help Uncle Bobby when he is in need (like a ride to or from work). Do you see that we can love Uncle Bobby but not want to have a lot of the influence of alcohol in our world?” (Side note: social reinforcement of this effective dealing with bad influences is important. Our children need to see friends and family members deal effectively and healthfully with bad influences as well. This will reinforce the behaviors that we exhibit.)
The second step is to prompt effective techniques for dealing with bad influences from your children. For example, if Johnny has a friend who has begun smoking cigarettes, our parental responses should include, “What do you think about your friend smoking cigarettes?” “Why do you think he has started smoking?” “Does he know the health risks that come from smoking?” “Do you know the health risks of second-hand smoke?” “Have you ever tried cigarettes?” “What do you think of smoking?” “I love you and want you to be happy and healthy. I sure don’t want you to start smoking because that’s not healthy. In fact, it’s very dangerous. We can research the subject together, if you’d like.” “Please know you can always tell me anything. I may not always be wild about what you have to say, but I’ll always be grateful that you were honest with me. Ok?”
When our children effectively deal with bad influences on their own, we should privately praise them. For example, if we hear Johnny tell his friend that he cannot smoke around him, we could privately tell Johnny, after the moment had passed, “I heard what you said to your friend about not smoking around you. You did a great job telling your friend that his friendship meant a great deal to you, but that you needed him to value your health if not his own. I am just so proud to be your mom.”
Our children will confront many bad influences as they age. This will include more than just smoking. For example, other bad influences include back-talking parents and teachers, drinking, doing drugs, having pre-marital sex, and myriad other behaviors that we don’t want our children to replicate. Because there are so many bad influences, and most can be very detrimental, it is essential that our children learn how to deal with these effectively.
As parents, we are responsible for teaching our children how to be healthy, happy, productive adults in our society. Healthy social interactions are key drivers in their personal and professional experiences as adults, so we want to teach our children how to have healthy social interactions. By following the tips above, we can help our children learn to have healthy social interactions so that they can be poised for healthy, happy, productive adulthood.
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