Mental Wellness Newsletter

Helping Our Children Build Healthy Relationships

Whats healthy and what's not

The Importance of Creating Healthy Relationships with Children

Creating healthy relationships with children is of critical importance for a variety of reasons. One of the most important is that our behavior toward children will help mold them into the adults of the future. If we are not mindful of our actions, we will very likely find out later the error of our ways.

To a small child, an adult looks like a giant. The dependent child seeks to have all needs, both emotionally and physically, met by the parent. What many parents fail to realize is that all children are constantly taking in, and interpreting, information from our words and our actions.

As we have seen with Transactional Analysis, from the time children are born, they are making assessments and writing Life Scripts they will play out in the years to come. Sadly, some people discount babies and small children and do not realize the impact adults have in helping to determine these Life Scripts.

To a child, a grownup is a huge person who looks down on them when speaking. Imagine how that feels if you are a child and have a parent standing above you who seems so huge and powerful. They tower over you, sometimes talking in a harsh voice. How would that make you feel? How would it be different if they were your size? Undoubtedly, the large parents, regardless of what they are saying, would make a big impression. The question becomes what kind? Good or bad?

What many people seem to forget is the subjectivity of interpretations. As we have said before, no two people will report an accident they witness the same way. How do we know how our children are interpreting things? We don't.

So if that is the case, and we never know how a child is interpreting us, what do we do? The best guidepost would be to be aware of our actions and be aware of our words. Be clear in what we are doing, and be supportive. Giving love in all our actions -- be it discipline or play, cannot go wrong. This does not mean to allow them to run wild. Quite the contrary. It does mean to be firm in what we are requesting, yet be supportive and loving.

Set Boundaries Coming from love and being supportive, along with setting boundaries is mandatory for a healthy relationship with a child.

How many parents seem to find it adorable to allow little Johnny to run amok, wreak havoc, and then justify his actions. Too many people become enmeshed in relationships with their children, and so the child has the authority to call the shots. Boundaries are not enforced and the child learns he does not have to respect what he is told to do. This relationship becomes a problem.Boundaries are healthy and teach the child to respect all types of people. They also help keep a child safe.

Living through a child

Have you ever seen a parent who, once their child is born, lives only through the child? Many do. The child does not get to be an independent person and develop individual interests, instead the child develops interests based on his/her parents. The parent wants the child to be a "minnie me," with the same interests and outlooks. They take pride in telling others how the child resembles them and acts like them.

How many little kids really want to be toddlers with tiaras or sports champions? Some do, but there are many who are simply going that way because their parents are interested -- not the kids.

Living through a child is not healthy for either the child or the parent. The parent needs to have his/her own interests independent of the child. Likewise the child needs to have the same in order to develop into his/her own person.
Children raised with this kind of controlling parent do not develop their own identity and interests, and some end up believing that they must spend their lives being someone they aren't and doing things that they don't care for to be liked and accepted.

Do Not Make a Child Be a Small Adult

How often are children caught in situations where they are asked to be a little adult? Many times this happens in divorces where the child is stuck in the middle and torn between parents. They lose the carefree life of a child and become burdened with warring parents and trying to keep them both happy. This can go on for years with the child never getting to be a child. They are robbed of their youth because of the parents. Later in life, this may show up in a variety of ways with issues in adulthood. How many children end up babysitting smaller kids 24/7 while Mom or Dad go out. Or maybe they spend every day of their lives actually being the parent, even though they are so young and a child themselves. Some children are born into situations, or situations develop, due to divorce or other means, that an older child may become the parent to the other children. These types of situations make them responsible adults before their time. On the surface this "little adult" behavior may not appear to be a problem. But the child deals with an unhealthy level of stress that may lead to unhealthy problems as adults.

Instilling Confidence and Security

In Tranactional Analysis we learned about the Nurturing Parent. This is the parent figure who loves and supports us emotionally and physically in a healthy way. The opposite of that is the Negative Nurturing Parent. This is the parent who takes the level of nurturing too far, which ends up making the child feel less confident. The child is made to feel they are not able to do anything on their own because mom or dad will end up taking over. Take for example a mother who does the homework for the child because the child is struggling. Instead of helping the child work through it, she does it for him. Although the child may be thrilled not to have to do it, there is a good possibility that the child may interpret this action as, "He is not smart enough." If this becomes a belief the child develops, imagine how it could develop throughout life. These parents may also do other things, such as encourage the child to overeat. "One more piece of pie won't hurt you." Their intention is not bad, but their boundaries on nurturing are unhealthy and dysfunctional and will lead to a negative result.

Nurturing plays a dominant role in developing a healthy relationship with a child. However nurturing needs to be balanced in order to really help a child.

Where it all starts

By Paige Dorn LCSW

The most important relationship to a child is the one they develop with their parent or caregiver. Children learn about the world around them through a positive parent-child relationship. As they are growing and changing, children look to their parents to determine whether or not they are safe, secure, and loved. It is also the foundation from which they will build their future relationships.

You can build a positive parent-child relationship by being in the moment with your child, spending quality time together, and creating an environment where they feel comfortable to explore. There is no secret handbook or guaranteed approach to get this relationship right, and you’ll likely find hardships along the way. However, if you keep working on improving your relationship, your child will surely blossom.

Continue reading for eight positive-parenting techniques that can help you strengthen the relationship between you and your child:

Show Your Love

Human touch and loving affection is needed at every stage of our lives for healthy emotional and neurobiological development. It is important that your child receive gentle, loving touch (i.e., hugs) from you several times throughout the day. Treat every interaction as an opportunity to connect with your child. Greet them with warm expressions, give eye contact, smile, and encourage honest interaction.

Say “I love you” often
It is often implied that we love our children, but be sure to tell them every day, no matter what age they are. Even when your child is being difficult or does something you don’t like; this can be an excellent opportunity to remind them that you love them unconditionally. A simple “I love you” can have a major impact on your long-term relationship with your child.

Set boundaries, rules, and consequences
Children need structure and guidance as they grow and learn about the world around them. Talk to your children about what you expect of them and make sure they understand. When rules are broken, make sure to have age-appropriate consequences in place and be consistent with them. To learn more about age-appropriate consequences, visit

Listen and empathize
Connection starts with listening. Acknowledge your child’s feelings, show them you understand, and reassure them that you are there to help with whatever they need. Try to see things from your child’s perspective. By listening and empathizing with your child, you will begin to foster mutual respect.

Play Together
Play is so important to a child’s development. It is the tool through which children develop language skills, express emotions, foster creativity, and learn about social skills. Additionally, it is a fun way for you to strengthen your relationship with your child. It does not matter what you play. The key is to just enjoy each other and commit to giving your child your undivided attention.

Be available and distraction-free
Setting aside just 10 minutes a day to talk to to your child, without distractions, can make a big difference in establishing good communication habits. Turn off the TV, put away your electronic devices, and spend some quality time together. Your child needs to know that you believe they are a priority in your life despite the many distractions and stressors that come your way.

Eat meals together
Eating together as a family can often lead to great conversation and bonding time with your child. Encourage everyone to put their phones or other devices away and simply enjoy each other’s company. Meal time is also a great opportunity for you to teach your children the importance of a healthy and balanced diet, which also effects their overall mental health.

Create parent-child rituals
If you have more than one child, try to make a point of spending individual time with each of them. Quality, one-on-one time with your child can strengthen the parent-child bond, builds up your child’s self-esteem, and lets them know that they are special and valued. Some parents schedule in special “date nights” with their children to create that one-on-one opportunity (whether it’s a walk around the neighborhood, a trip to the playground, or just a movie at home – it’s important to celebrate each child individually).

How to talk to kids about healthy relationships

1. Define, model, and give examples of what a healthy relationship is.

2. Explain what an unhealthy relationship is

3. Discuss digital abuse

4.Help them define boundaries

5. Look for signs of an unhealthy relationship and talk

6. Ask for help when needed

By: Robin Pittman

Healthy relationships are something all parents want for their children. In pre-school, we teach them how to be a good friend and how to play well with others. In the elementary grades, we teach them about bullies. In the middle school years, puberty and “the talk” about sex often becomes the priority – so much so that the conversation of healthy romantic relationships tends to get delayed or neglected altogether.

While it is very important to have the discussion about sex, parents should also have “the talk” about love in order to protect children from unhealthy relationships. According to the Centers for Disease Control, one in ten high school students has been purposefully hit, slapped, or physically hurt by a boyfriend or girlfriend. By teaching children the key elements to healthy relationships, teens and young adults are more likely to have healthy long-lasting relationships.

According to a report from Making Caring Common, “large numbers of teens and young adults are unprepared for caring, lasting romantic relationships and are anxious about developing them. Yet it appears that parents, educators and other adults often provide young people with little or no guidance in developing these relationships.” Harvard psychologist Richard Weissbourd conducted a survey and found that 70% of the 18-25 year old participants wanted information from their parents about the emotional aspects of romantic relationships, and 65% said they wanted to learn about the emotional aspects of relationships in their sexuality education classes in school. In other words, while most parents, schools, and educators are discussing abstinence, how to avoid pregnancy, and preventing sexually transmitted diseases, kids want more. Children want to know about how to love and be loved. You cannot talk about one without the other.

Here are some key points to start the conversation with your child. Keep in mind the best time to start these conversations is BEFORE your child is in a romantic relationship.

1. Define, model, and give examples of what a healthy relationship is. There are several ways to discuss this, but emphasizing that all good relationships must have trust, honesty, respect, communication, and understanding is a good way to start. A healthy relationship will allow both partners to have other friends, develop personal interests, and remain individuals while being a couple. Defining each of these elements and showing them examples of what they look like is important.

2. Explain what an unhealthy relationship is. There are many factors that make a relationship unhealthy or abusive. According to, an unhealthy relationship is defined as “an imbalance in which one partner tries to exercise control and power over the other through threats, emotional abuse, and physical abuse. At its most extreme, an unhealthy relationship can include name-calling and insults, withholding of money or other resources, threats to isolate a person from friends and family, coercion, violent acts, stalking and significant physical injury.”

3. Discuss digital abuse. Technology is such a big part of teenagers’ lives these days. Constant and instant communication via social media and texting opens the door widely to many unhealthy behaviors, including digital abuse. Digital abuse occurs when a person uses technology, such as smartphones and computers, to harass another person usually through texting or social media. Digital abuse can include:

  • Constant unwanted calls or texts
  • Harassment/cyberbullying on social media
  • Sexting – Pressure to send nude or private pictures or content
  • Using social media, texts, calls to monitor whereabouts, send insults, or control other relationships
  • Pressuring their partner for their passwords to social media sites and email

4. Help them define boundaries. Personal boundaries are something every teen needs to establish. Boundaries protect against sexual and physical abuse in a relationship. They also let each person in the relationship understand the other’s values and what is okay and not okay. Work with your child to identify and articulate their personal values and boundaries. Revisit family values and how that translates to romantic relationships. While it is important for adolescents to understand their own boundaries, it is also important to understand that their partner has boundaries that need to be respected.

5. Look for signs of an unhealthy relationship and talk. Unhealthy relationships are all about lack of mutual respect, failing to respect a partner’s boundaries, and an inequity of power and control. If you feel like your child is spending a lot of time with his/her partner and not as much time with family, other friends, or hobbies, then that’s a warning sign. If you notice any of these red flags, it is time to talk with your teen. Offer strategies to get out of the relationship quickly and safely.

6. Ask for help when needed. This applies to your teen – and you. If your teen is struggling with a relationship, encourage him/her to seek help from you, a trusted adult, or local resource. Additionally, if you need some support to start a conversation about healthy relationships with your child or you are worried they are in an abusive relationship, seek help. There are plenty of resources and people who can help.

  • Love Is Respect ( is an organization that gives support and information for teens and their parents or friends who have concerns about dating relationships. To get in touch with a trained peer advocate, call 1-866-331-9474, text “loveis” to 22522, or chat online at
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline 1-800-799-SAFE (7233)

Teaching adolescents what it means to be in a healthy relationship is a very important message and needs to be talked about. Discussing these issues and explaining the difference between a healthy and an unhealthy relationship can help them understand what it means to have positive relationships and could possibly even save their lives.

Need Help?

If your child is in crisis and needs immediate help, please call 911 for assistance.

National crisis hotline: 1-800-273-8255

Crisis line via online chat at or by text: Send the word HOME to 741741

Community Health Network: 317-621-5700

Provides immediate assessments by phone for persons experiencing a mental health crisis 24 hours daily and offers referrals ad scheduling for mental health and addiction treatment providers.

Sandra Eskenazi Mental Health Center:


Provides 24-hour telephone crisis interventions for persons with mental health or addiction treatment emergencies.

Aspire Indiana Crisis Line: 1-800-560-4038

Provides 24-hour phone crisis interventions for persons experiencing a mental health or addictions crisis.

Adult & Child Mental Health Center:


Provides a 24-hour crisis and referral phone line.

Families First: 317-251-7575

24-hour crisis and suicide intervention services by both phone and text messaging.

Indiana Coalition against Domestic Violence:


Offers 24-hour crisis intervention, safety planning and shelter referrals for persons in domestic violence situations.

Contact info


Work: 317-721-7164