by Neil Wilkie
You have the power to create great relationships for your future generations or not!
Possibly the most important skill in life is how to have a loving and fulfilling relationship with another person. Who teaches us how to do this? From a very early age children model their parent’s behaviour as this helps them to make sense of this new world that they have been born into. Until they are old enough to develop their own map of the world, they will aspire to having the same sort of relationship that their parents have.
How parents relate to their children, in the first three years, will shape the attachment style of their children for what is likely to be the rest of their lives. The four attachment styles are; Secure, Anxious, Avoidant or Fearful. The state of the relationship of the parents in these formative early years may impact on their ability to make their children feel secure.
Children often believe that their relationships will have to be like their parents. So, if it is loving and harmonious, they are very fortunate and will carry that into their futures. If it is unhappy and argumentative, they will carry that shadow with them because ‘that is how relationships are’ unless they can find a better model they can apply in their lives.
Couples may believe that they can keep their disagreements hidden and their frustrations swept under the carpet. Children will pick up, at least subconsciously, if the relationship of their parents does not feel right. Children need to see that differences are part of life and that they can be dealt with amicably. They also need to experience that life can be a bumpy ride and that their parents can handle this as a team.
Children should see their parents experiencing joy and fun with each other. If they can see the love glowing and growing, the looks, gentle kisses, kind words and touches; the moments of intimacy where it is as if the world stops and nothing else matters, then they will be well set up for their future relationships. If they can see respect, consideration and sharing of burdens, this will give them an insight into balanced gender roles. If the future dreams and purpose of their parents is talked about openly then they will feel part of that journey and realise that they too, can shape their own future rather than be passengers.
Parents should retain privacy on sensitive issues and should show their children that relationships require openness and nurturing. They can also demonstrate that mistakes are inevitable, and they are a great opportunity to learn and improve.
Children need to be taught, by example, what a great relationship is like. They also need to understand that life changes and that falling in love is easy but staying in love requires hard work.
The six key elements of a relationship are:
Communication – being able to express your feelings to each other and feeling listened to and understood.
Connection – having time each day where you are there for each other and fully present.
Commitment – both being clear about what you want from life and from the relationship and working to achieve this.
Fun – spending time doing things together, sharing laughs and good times.
Growth – the you, me and ‘us’ all growing and being fulfilled.
Trust – doing what we say we are going to do, being there for each other and being open and honest.
Couples should regularly be talking about their relationship, calibrating it and agreeing where improvements are needed. If parents can show their children that they are doing this in the same way that tests at school chart their own progress, this will demonstrate a great model for their future relationships.
What we say to our children and how we behave with them should help them grow into happy and secure adults and parents. So many children are badly affected for the rest of their lives by things that parents say to them or that are overheard. They may be said in moments of anger or misunderstanding but the emotionally developing brain of a child may attach too much importance to what they hear and carry that shadow with them for the rest of their lives.
These are the 10 important feelings that children need their parents to stimulate:
Loved – unconditionally, no matter what.
Secure – that we are there for them, to protect them when needed.
Supported – to be the best version of themselves.
Boundaries – to know what acceptable behaviour is and what is not.
Growth – to continually develop to be even better.
Trust – to be able to predict what we will do and feel safe.
Communication – to be listened to and able to express their feelings.
Connection – to feel an important part of a family.
Commitment – parents are there for them.
Fun – to be able to have fun together.
If we can give our children all of these, this will build a firm foundation to experience the joys of a great relationship and weather the storms of life and relationships.
What legacy do you want to give your children?
Neil Wilkie is a Relationship Expert, Psychotherapist, author of the Relationship Paradigm Series of Books and creator of the online therapy platform, The Relationship Paradigm®.
Find out more at www.relationshipparadigm.com