Children have a tendency to see things, even when we think they aren’t paying attention or that they don’t have the cognitive ability to figure it out. An example is, when children are in the room while we speak with other adults, the tendency is to s-p-e-l-l o-u-t a word because we don’t want the child to hear it.
“It is time for Timmy to take an N-A-P.” Eventually the child learns the word you are spelling or they will have the ability to understand that N-A-P has an action associated with it that places them in their bed.
What this means is that children understand much more than we think they do. From the very beginning they are mirroring what they see us do. Mirroring is done when one person copies the action of another person during social interaction. Children mirror the adults and peers they are in contact with on a regular basis; they may learn behaviors such as work ethic, eating habits, and even relationship patterns.
In this blog we will focus on what children need to see from our romantic relationships with one another. What are the best ways for us to set up positive mirroring in the lives of our children?
What specifically do children need to see in our relationships with our spouses or partners?
A boy should see his father succeed in fulfilling his mother’s needs. The young man should see that father (or a father-figure) can make mistakes and continue to love himself. The young boy must witness his mother (or a mother-figure) being forgiving to the father. He must witness each partner forgiving and each partner admitting when they are wrong.
A girl needs to see her mother openly receive love. It is important for the mother to help the young woman see what positive and healthy self-awareness and self-esteem look like. The young woman should see that her mother (or mother-figure) can be confident in herself, and supportive of other females. She must witness her mother knowing and loving herself, while having a shared identity with the father. Seeing stability in relationships is huge for young women developing and learning how to love themselves.
There is a healthy balance that children need to see. Too much domination of one partner in the relationship can give children the wrong idea about what “healthy” relationships look like. We mirror our parents, siblings, and peers from a very young age.
It is important that we also allow ourselves to make mistakes, because no one can be perfect. Try to remember these strategies when children are in the home:
- Have parental discussions in private, maybe when out at a quiet dinner alone or when spending a quiet evening at home without the kids.
- An argument may ensue that was unintentional; if a fight begins in front of the kids- we need to pause.
- Gather your emotions through quiet counting or deep breathing.
- Whether the child hears some of our argument begin or is just with us during the “feeling” of a certain emotion, children know something is wrong. We don’t need to give them full details, but talk to them about what happen.
- Make sure the talk is age-appropriate and includes why mom and dad acted in the fashion they did and what mom and dad learned about the situation.
Healthy relationships help our children to learn good relationship habits. When it comes to patterns and emotions they will learn to mirror what we put out. Allow yourself grace to make mistakes, humility to admit when you are wrong, and to harbor love and understanding to our partners in front of our children.