There is certainly no instruction booklet on how to help our children foster positive relationships. The way we first learn is through modeling our parent’s behavior, by process of elimination, and through on the job training when we’re thrust into our social worlds in school and other places we socialize. As we know, sometimes these may not be the most reliable and most conducive lessons.
From my own experience and through the lens of my patients, I see the long-term effects that fractured relationships have on our self-confidence and overall happiness. It impacts on the way we view ourselves, others and relationships in general.
These are 8 valuable lessons:
1. Lead by your values, not by someone else’s behavior – We are prompted and taught to react and interact based on someone else’s behavior. If someone is mean, “act mean back” becomes our motto. Experiencing ourselves as mean and “feeling” mean doesn’t benefit ourselves or the other person. Rather than being reactive, think about “who you want to be” and “who your best self is.” If your core value is kindness, valuing others, etc. then be that at all times irrespective of another person’s behavior. There’s a lot of shame and regret that inevitably lingers when you are not acting from your values and a place of integrity.
2. Don’t treat people the way you would like to be treated but rather how they want and need to be treated – We approach people in the way we know and is familiar to us. If someone is disappointed, we approach them in the way we like people to approach us. How would we know otherwise? Always ask others what they need, there’s no way for you to know that because each person is uniquely different.
3. Speak back to the mind when it evokes insecurity – Our mind is always trying to protect us, intrinsic in that is it being relentless at times. It sometimes provides more protecting than we actually need and could often provoke self-doubt, insecurity and worry. It could say things like “no one will like me” or “everyone is smarter than me.” We need to challenge these broad generalizations and negativity and act from a place of who we want to be. The only way to test out its validity is to purposefully lean into the challenge and then work from a more realistic place. “Some people are having negative reactions to me” is workable, whereas “no one will like me” is not.
4. Gaining confidence is an inside job – It is our job, not the job of others to build our confidence, self-belief and self-love. The better we feel about ourselves, the better “self” we’ll be in our relationships and those are the people we’ll attract and place ourselves in relationships with. We need to think about whether we are putting in the time into getting to know ourselves and better understand the way in which we think and feel and are also making strong concerted efforts to enhance ourselves within our limitations. Acknowledgment and validation is a personal practice and is critical to take note of on a daily basis.
5. When you have a strong reaction, take a pause – We all have strong reactions to others because it pushes our buttons and says something personal about us. It’s important to take a pause so it gives us the time to process how it felt, what it evoked in us and how we’re prompted to react. Think through that and then go back to #1 on the list.
6. Approach relationships with curiosity and openness – We approach relationships with our entire selves, including our judgments and expectations. Always approach situations by asking yourself, “How else can I see this?” Think of yourself as a researcher, trying to better understand human behavior and make it a point to reserve judgments and expectations. Approaching with curiosity will allow for less defensiveness, more empathy and room for shifting preconceived ideas and notions about our beliefs.
7. Teach people how to treat you – People are not expected to know what you want and need even though we wish they did. We desire it so much, that we often get disappointed when they don’t know it automatically. Other people are not us, so they can’t possibly understand. We need to let them know and ask for what we need and set appropriate boundaries with others so they get to understand our needs better.
8. Relationships evolve like people do – We, as human beings and the relationships we engage in are forever growing, changing and are in a state of flux. If that’s the case, we need to understand that our needs and preferences will change overtime in sync with our development. Patients are usually puzzled when asked why it’s okay for them to be selective in the people they desire to socialize with but why it’s their expectation that everyone like them. Along with this is the acceptance that our friends and overall relationships may change over time and what we need from them will change too. This is all expected and part of our natural development.
I had a friend leaving on a trip for several weeks that would extend into her birthday. I brought her a gift to ensure that she would have it for her birthday. When we got home, my 8-year-old daughter asked, “Why did you get her a gift, it wasn’t her birthday, her birthday is far away.” I said that she’ll be away and I wanted her to know that I care about her and want to celebrate her. She responded, “Even if no one else remembers, she’ll know you did. I want to be a friend like that.” I expect she will be because her intrinsic value of thoughtfulness.
We may not have an instruction booklet but we can be conduits in helping our children to form positive satisfying relationships. Besides modeling the behavior for them, we can teach them valuable lessons.