The tween years are an interesting time for your children, as they begin to take their first steps towards puberty, and naturally, start getting curious about the world of dating and relationships. The good news is that in those fleeting tween-age years before your young one crosses over from childhood to being a full-fledged teenager, he or she is likely to be open with you about their thoughts and feelings. This is a good time for parents to guide their children towards a healthy understanding of love and relationships.
Get Inside your Child’s World
One of the most valuable ways that you can invest in your parent-child relationship is to connect with your child and understand the world through her eyes. Spend time together, and be present as you initiate conversations on who her friends are, and what she likes, dislikes, dreams and worries about. This will give insights into your child, and enables you to guide her views on relationships, while addressing any misconceptions that you might pick up on.
Keep Clear of Negative Talk
It can be tempting to steer your child away from all conversations about love and relationships. Some parents may be fearful of their child dating before he is emotionally ready, or dating someone unsuitable. However, avoid making blanket statements about dating such as, “dating is bad for you” and “dating will distract you from your studies, and you will fail!”. Instead, encourage conversations and engage with your children as they share their thoughts with you.
Emphasise Positive Friendships
The most vital relationship advice you can share with your child is that all positive romantic relationships are rooted in strong friendships. Discuss with your child the traits found in good relationships such as mutual respect, compromise, being supportive and having healthy boundaries. Take the time to clearly share how these are also traits that are found in solid friendships. You might even share about the positive experiences of relatives and family friends to provide your child with real-life examples that she can relate to. Provide your child with the opportunities to form healthy friendships with both boys and girls, and open your home to these friends so that they can safely meet and bond with some parental supervision.
Set Boundaries Early
Some parents opt to take a ‘wait and see’ approach to dating and relationship boundaries, clamping down on when they believe their child has crossed the line. This will likely lead to resentment towards the parents and conflict in the family. Instead, it is advisable to set boundaries with your children even before they start dating. Have an upfront discussion about the do’s and don’ts of dating, and even friendships with the opposite sex. For example, you might want to stipulate that friends of the opposite sex are not allowed in the bedroom, or that an adult must be present when they come over to visit. Setting the expectations right at the start will minimise conflict and miscommunication in future.
Be a Positive Role Model
As a general rule, your children will observe how you behave in your relationships and follow the example that you set. In fact, this is probably the most effective way you can positively influence your child’s attitude and behaviour towards relationships, and other areas of life. Invest time and effort in your own marriage to model what a healthy relationship looks like. As your child watches how you interact with your spouse, it sets the standard for the kind of relationships that he will pursue in future.
Explaining dating and relationships to your child can be a challenging task, but also an extremely rewarding one for parents. Ensuring that your child has the right attitude and values in this area will set them up for success in their future relationships – and both your child and their spouse will thank you for it.
Copyright © 2016. Focus on the Family Singapore Ltd.
Article contributed by Judith Xavier, Focus on the Family Singapore.