By Julie Baumgardner, MS, CFLE
Not long ago, someone shared with me that her young adult daughter was complaining that there are no guys who are “marriage material.” Interestingly, I often hear the same thing from young adults who might be interested in marriage, but really feel like it’s slim pickings for them.
This led me to ask the question: How do we as parents, extended family, and the community-at-large raise people who understand what it looks like to be a respectful significant other? As someone who lives in the world of teaching healthy relationship skills, one thing we know is, it starts early. That doesn’t mean people can’t learn these skills later in life, but it does mean it’s more complicated.
Understanding how to be a respectful significant other starts with parents teaching children early and often about things like how to share with others, not being the center of everyone’s attention all the time, taking turns, losing or failing, perseverance, finding their voice and being a good listener, the art of cooperating and collaborating, helpfulness, learning to problem solve, and taking responsibility for their own behavior as well as learning to control their impulses and emotions.
Of course, the next logical question is, how in the world do you intentionally teach all of these things? Glad you asked! Here are some strategies for being intentional about teaching your child how to be a respectful significant other:
-Provide opportunities for them to have to share their toys and serve others.
-Give them age-appropriate jobs to do around the house – not for money, but because they are a valued member of the family team.
-Commit to family meals where children experience listening to others, learn to express their thoughts, help prepare meals and clear the table, and even witness some disagreements where people get up from the table, but still love each other despite their differences.
-Play games such as Mother May I; Red Light, Green Light; Simon Says; Duck, Duck, Goose; Kick the Can; wiffle ball; and board games where children learn to follow instructions, take turns being “it,” negotiate, lose, and win.
-Teach your child to use words to express themselves instead of throwing a temper tantrum or having a meltdown.
-Avoid swooping in to rescue your child during a conflict with another child. If they come to you and tell you they believe they were mistreated, ask them what they think they need to do. Help them come up with and execute a plan versus you handling it.
-Avoid making them the center of your attention all the time.
-Model respect in your tone of voice, your words, and your actions. Keep your word and let them know what that means.
-Stop doing for your children what they can do for themselves.
-Don’t always give your children what they want, when they want it. This teaches them delayed gratification.
-Teach them how to apologize, admit when they are wrong, and ask for forgiveness.
-Help them understand the difference between needs and wants.
Parenting is no easy task, but if you begin with the end in mind, the little things you do intentionally every day can prepare your children well. Whether your goal is to simply raise a respectful person or someone who is “marriage material,” consistency and modeling can help you shape your child into the person they will become. HS