Children are incredibly perceptive. They are watching how you interact with each other, what you say to one another, how you’re feeling. They know when their home life is stable or rocky and will often act out if it’s the latter. Studies have shown that when the parents’ relationship is positive, it positively affects their child’s behavior and vice versa.
Additionally, if you want your child to have a healthy relationship of her own one day, you will have to model a healthy relationship yourself. You’ve heard it said, “more is caught than taught,” and this is absolutely true. When I interviewed marriage expert Dr. Les Parrot for my podcast, he described the home as a child’s “university of relationships; not just for marriage, but for everything.” So that’s where it has to start—in your own home. Your role is to model the type of relationship you hope your child will have one day with his or her future partner.
This doesn’t mean your job as a parent is to have a perfect relationship. We all know that’s impossible, but even in your moments of conflict, you can teach your child something positive or something negative.
One of the best things you can do in front of your child in the midst of conflict with your spouse is to practice respectful, loving speech.
When my kids were growing up in our home, I told them that they had the freedom to be mad, but they were never allowed to say mean things, swear or break someone else’s stuff when they were mad. If you want your children to handle conflict in this way, you will have to model that for them. When you and your spouse are fighting, what kind of words are you using? What is your body language like? Are you hostile? Are you quick to apologize, or prideful? Do you want your child to handle conflict in this way?
It’s important for kids to know the emotion of anger is ok, but you still have to treat one another with respect and pave a path toward forgiveness and reconciliation with one another.
Another way to model a healthy relationship for your child is to focus on personal health and well-being.
Dr. Parrott says a healthy marriage is only as healthy as the least healthy person in it. To have a strong marriage, you must become a strong and healthy individual. You can instill the importance of personal health and well-being in your child by making him aware of who he is and how God created him to be individually. When a child grows up knowing he doesn’t need someone else to complete him or make him happy, he will be a healthy adult prepared for a healthy marriage.
As you think about your own relationship in the weeks to come, remember, it doesn’t only involve you and your spouse. It involves all the little eyes that are watching you. Model the type of relationship you hope your child will have as an adult. Not only will this strengthen your own marriage, but it will also ensure your child has a strong one herself one day.