Teaching Children about Healthy Relationships

If there’s one thing that is challenging when dealing with a sociopath, narcissist or personality disordered person… it is maintaining an accurate view of what a healthy relationship looks like.  It’s something that I would say most people lose sight of when in an abusive relationship.  It’s unfortunate, but we begin to accept the “new norm” and forget that there really are better ways to relate with other people.

There is definitely an opportunity to write an article as a whole about what children need to understand about healthy vs. unhealthy relationships.  The setting for this starts so early in life – and is communicated so much through non-verbalized behavior.  For example, when my daughter was around 3 and my son an infant, we took a walk with my ex to the public library about 0.25 miles away.  My daughter had her bike with training wheels, and my son was in the Bjorn.  On the way back, we had a bag of books, and my daughter got tired on her bike.  What happened then?  My ex (then husband) refused to help, and I wound up carrying our son in the bjorn, daughter on my hip, books on one arm and bike off another.  Oh, wait… that’s too many arms, right?  Well.. somehow it happened ;).   So – without words- I communicated to my daughter to compensate for a grumpy individual who wouldn’t take responsibility for his own children. 

For this post, I want to point out a couple other events that happened recently where instead of leaving it as “non-verbalized”, I decided to make it a point of communicating about it.  There were definite “teachable moments” to seize!

First, our daughter was supposed to be with her dad.  She went with her dad and brother to her therapist as the start of their weekend.  Something happened there, and I received a text from her therapist letting me know that our daughter (who is almost 9) was being dropped off outside and our son was going alone.   She came in the door crying harder than ever even possible.  Within a couple hours, she was vomiting from having been so upset.  She was worried about her brother, who relies on her when they are there.  He even said in therapy that the calls her “mom” when they are with their father.  We tried to call for our normal bedtime call, but their dad’s phone was off.  Thankfully, we heard from them at 9:30pm (which is late to us!).  Their dad monitored the call, but it helped our daughter feel better.

The next morning, she was still upset.  I sent my ex a text asking for our daughter to be able to talk with her brother in the morning.  No response.   A couple hours later, I let our daughter call.  She left a sweet message, but no response.  A couple more hours later, and she asked to go by her dad’s store to see her brother.  I said we could drive by and see the car, but not go in.  “Why not?” she rightfully asked.

This is when I realized it was a great teachable moment.  “That’s a very good question!”.  I told her that with normal people, that you could do that and there would be no issues.  However, since we’ve talked about what it means to be abusive (both physically and emotionally), I explained that her dad is abusive.  Since he is, that he will throw a fit to get me in trouble for coming by his store, and I don’t want to have him angry when her brother is with him.  I said it is a way for an abusive person to maintain control over another person.

We also talked about him not returning the message & call.  I asked she felt because her call/message wasn’t responded to and she has been unable to speak with her brother.  “Worried”, she said.  “Exactly”, I said.  I explained that this is what her Dad is trying to do – he is trying to provoke these feeling by blocking their contact.  In normal, healthy relationships, people allow other people to freely talk and have relationships with one another.  For someone who is abusive or controlling, they try to stop other people from talking or having a relationship.  I explained that I was telling her this because I wanted to teach her what healthy relationships look like.  I was not telling her to bash her father… that this is what he grew up with and what he learned.  However, I want her to grow up to have healthy relationships, and so I need to teach her what they look like.

The last, and probably best teachable moment this past weekend was when it was just about time for her dad to bring her brother back.  Our daughter said, “I’m going to go out to the car and apologize to dad.”.  I said to her “<name>, you just met with him and told him how he treats you badly – screaming at you, calling you names and hitting you.  Who should be apologizing?”  She responded “That’s a good point.  A REALLY good point.”

But boy… isn’t it a natural dynamic in abusive relationships?  How many times did I do the same exact thing?  He treated me poorly, I got upset, and then apologized for getting upset!  No way… I’m not going to let my daughter walk down that path.  And does he ever apologize … to me or her?  No.

It was a wonderful moment to realize that there could be good things to come out of this past weekend’s dramatic events.  Perhaps you can see others like that in your life to teach very explicitly what healthy relationships look like for your kids!


21 Responses to “Teaching Children about Healthy Relationships”

  1. Kelly Quinn says:

    Brilliant! ❤. Way to teach.

  2. Valerie says:

    Wow… what a sisterhood here. While I already knew I was not going crazy… only recently have I put Narcissist on top of passive aggressive when it comes to my ex. What is happening now is that my son is acting out in school and he is very angry with his dad for having moved into a new house and without warning moved his girlfriend in too. Classic passive aggression and narcissism. No one can tell him what to do. Clearly he is angry and unhappy… but forget all that…I just want to focus on the teachable moments with my son so he can start learning that his dad is just NOT capable of a normal relationship. It’s sad to have to express this reality to my son but I feel now that he is 12 and angry with his dad’s decision which showed him no respect or consideration … he needs to know the realities of people. even his own dad. So bravo for you writing this article because I can relate. I feel now its about teachable moments and becoming his own person and recognizing his dad’s limitations not make them his own limitations.

  3. Alaska's mom says:

    I don’t know how I didn’t see this before. Been divorced for awhile. My daughter is coming on her teens and my spouse and I chose compassionate parenting. Co-parenting at this point with bio-dad has been frustrating at best. We pay for all her lessons and camps and drive her to all her practices etc even on his days with no contribution but he is first to take parental credit when she performs or does anything. We have been taking her to a therapist to help her work through things. But after her overnights with him she’s angry and just recently says she wants to fail to prove to her dad that his “family” isn’t as perfect as he wants people to think it is. I’ve told her failing is not an option. I’m trying to refrain from saying anything negative about her dad while still empowering her to do what she needs to do to make things livable for her. I understand her impulse to want revenge, but I would like to guide her away from it without stopping to his level. This article helped remind me to search for those teachable moments.

  4. Christine Lee says:

    Wow——–the apologizing part really got to me. I often found myself apologizing to him when I was the one who should have received an apology. I think this is a common trait of a narcissist. They are NEVER to blame and can never accept responsibility for how they treat others. They always have to win and be right. And if they feel they are not you MUST apologize to them even if they hurt you. I am so glad I left this man.

  5. Senaida says:

    I was recommended this web site by my cousin. I’m not sure whether
    this post is written by him as no one else know such detailed about my difficulty.
    You’re incredible! Thanks!

  6. Heather says:

    We have court mid may! Prayers appreciated.,

  7. Heather says:

    Hey – how do I get little reminders of your blog updates. I’m really enjoying the new blogs.

    We are heading back to court…bleh. But this is from me to help him learn how to behave.

    I agree completely you have to call abuse abuse and have done this recently with my girls. Even though I’m taking the ex back to court, I still make sure to note the positives he does for them (and funny enough…when I finally get mean…he always behaves himself very nicely …weird to me that the nicer I am the meaner he is and the meaner I am the nicer he is…apparently you have to bully bullies?)

    I was just wondering what happened to you and was happy to see the new posts and to hear that things go well.

    • Hey there! I am having some funky things with my blog right now, and no time to address it. But… I believe you can type in your email on the top right corner of the main page and receive posts.

      Sorry to hear about court, but glad the ball is coming from you. I pray and pray you will be successful with terminating overnights. When you do, will you let us all know how you acheived it? It will be wonderfully hopeful for everyone who hits this site!

      I do think you are right… bullies back away from people who stand up to them. They look for weak opponents, and when we regain our power and strong sense of self – there’s no point in their hanging around.

      • Heather says:

        Thank you 😉 will keep you up to date. Thanks for the prayers. Sometimes dealing with them feels so lonely.

  8. Heather says:

    Hey! How do I get emailed when you have new posts again?

    These are so totally about what I’m
    Going thru right now it’s not even funny. I’m also trying to terminate overnights with the narc. I can say that I’m less scared than I was before and also less angry.

    Anyway… Excellent posts keep up tge good work!

  9. Julie says:

    It’s so hard to try to teach acceptable behavior when they have an NPD as a father. I really like the enable you showed your daughter and I don’t think you should fear calling him abusive. Being in a fear state of mind only attracts the NPD to attack. Also, I’m just gonna say it the really scary point. I am very fearful that my child will end up either as an NPD or like me semi -codependent. I read a lot, have been to therapy, try to show good behavior and yet I know that at the very base of my pysche I put up with abuse for a period of time and didn’t even realize it. The truth is a large percentage or children who are in this situation either end up as victim or abuser. In order for our children not to be ethier we first have to face ourselves and the enormity of the situation. This is truly a battle for our children’s souls

  10. JenelleMarie says:

    I’m glad your daughter is absorbing this and seeing the alternatives. It must be extremely difficult since she’s the caretaker of her brother when with her father, but it’s good she learns it now.

    I’m in the same boat as Sheri, our most recent order states that I am not to discuss the father with the children at ALL after the mediator notated that she feels I am coaching the children and only giving them a negative perception of their father. It floors me that a mediator who has never dealt with divorce in her own family let alone with a personality disordered individual would have the gall to write a report about this. She has no clue the type of abuse or neglect my children have witnessed and been through the last year and I let them come to their own conclusions about their father. Saddens me that a mediator feels she has the right to tell me how to parent my child simply because the ex put it in her ear at mediation that i’m telling lies about him (transference much?). BUT after my initial frustration with the mediator’s report and new order I agreed to I have come to see this is probably just another step God wants to take me through because I have no issue following orders and recommendations and soon enough the truth will set me free and the mediators false perception will be worked out as she see’s that I diligently continue to take the kids to therapy and speak only about our house and our family. Frustrating as heck, but I have to trust there is a purpose to this and hopefully by the time things are changed and seen I will still be able to have teachable moments so that my children don’t follow in my footsteps and believe their relationship with their father is anything close to healthy or normal.

  11. Sheri says:

    While I would say that how you handled the situation is admirable and was an excellent opportunity to teach your daughter about the reality of the situation, I can’t help but inwardly cringe a little also. Not because of what you said or did, but because of how I can see your actions possibly being twisted around into something they were not and then used against you. Been there, done that.

    In my situation, if my ex ever learned that I had called him “abusive” to our children (even if it was true), he would be sure to use that against me the next time we wind up in court, all with the label “parental alienation”. This exact thing has already happened to me once. He was going through a divorce (again) and his then-wife accused him of abusing one of my daughters. I withheld visitation pending a CPS investigation. He produced every email I had ever written him where I had lost my cool to the GAL along with his “I’m so mistreated” story of woe and the GAL wound up telling the judge that she believed me withholding visitation was an attempt by me to alienate the kids. Nevermind the fact that although our relationship has remained acrimonious throughout the years, I have never, ever interfered with his relationship with our kids ever except to let him know when something is bothering the kids pertaining to their relationship. (Which he always tells me is just me “creating drama” and dismisses.)

    Given my very bad experiences with a very similar situation, I feel compelled to stress caution, though I’m sure I’m not telling you anything you haven’t already considered.

    • You are absolutely right. I guess my thought came from the fact that my daughter’s therapist has been discussing abusive behavior with her and defining what abuse is with her as well. So, I used that as my point of reference.

      Even though I’ve been in this a long time, I am always amazed by the similarity in the personalities. My ex does the same thing with both the kids and me when he is “being disrespectful” (lol- aka abusive) – where he says we are full of it, denies it and waves it away.

  12. Karin says:

    I’ve just found your website, and this most recent post of yours couldn’t be more appropriate for what I’m dealing right now with my children and their father. I have two children with him (M) and recently took away his overnights because he shoved our son repeatedly, pushing him onto his bed then dragging him off by his ankle, then he ripped my son’s glasses off his face and threw them across the room. There is more to it than that, but that’s the nutshell version. I called Children’s Service to make a report and let M and the children know. When I told the kids CS had been called because what M did was abusive, my son said ‘well, he didn’t beat me’. I had to explain to him that what his dad did is abusive and not normal. Both my daughter and son replied ‘it’s normal for us’. Scary. I thank God every day I left him so they have a gauge for what a normal household is, and what normal parental reactions are, but it’s still a battle.

    Your post reminded me of something that clicked for me a few years ago. I was wondering how I ended up with M in the first place, and why I stayed so long. I’ve discovered (as most of us do when we read about others in our situation) that most of us who marry narcissists are highly empathetic people. I recalled years before having a talk with a friend about her son who was being bullied by another boy in class. She told her son that the boy was probably going through some tough stuff and maybe he just needed someone to be nice to him in order to be nice himself. At the time I thought it was sweet advice. Now I see that advice totally differently. Now if my kids are treated badly by another child I tell them to stay away from that kid because there are plenty of other deserving and lovely children out there for them to be friends with. How is that badly behaved child going to learn he can’t get away with being a terror if you let him misbehave and even befriend him while he is abusing you? I think it was this old mentality that kept me with M – if I treat him well enough he’ll finally come around – pity played into that relationship far too much. Now it’s a matter of helping my children apply that advice to their father. We’ve had many conversations since the most recent incident because they feel badly for their dad (who is going through some tough stuff personally right now). I’ve explained to them that he is an adult, and doesn’t need children’s pity – especially when he takes it out on them. I reiterated that I have also gone through some very tough stuff, but I have NEVER treated them like their dad did. It is unacceptable.

    It’s a tricky, messy situation because of course they love their dad. Our job is, as you said, to keep pointing out the way their thoughts have been muddied about it because of their fathers’ tactics, and helping them see through it so they can make better choices, or at least be less confused by their feelings.

    • That is scary – that your children see this as what is normal for them. They seem old enough to pass along some articles on the web on generic healthy relationships (there are ones which are geared to pre-teen/teen). Maybe that can help them to see what healthy should look like.

      It’s a fine line between compassion for the person (I teach that too) but it’s also VERY necessary to keep boundaries in place and to love and respect ourselves more than the compassion or pity we have for the other person. We do not need to give up ourselves or what is respectful treatment of us just because the other person doesn’t know or hasn’t learned it themselves.

      Glad you’re here! And I’m always amazed by “synchronicities” in life

  13. E says:

    Thank you! This is exactly what I needed to read today. My son was sent home with his cell phone that I pay for this past weekend. It has been made clear in a passively aggressive way that he is not allowed to contact me while with his dad. It has been frustrating watching my son accept this as okay. I have been fearful to point out how unhealthy this is to him because I was not sure how to bring it up in an appropriate way. Thank you!

    • Again.. I’m amazed by synchonicities… I think it’s neat when I feel compelled to post something and it hits the right timing for someone else.

      There is so much the same for anyone in dealing with this – unfortunately. My cell phones have been taken 3 times before, even when I tell him that he can control whether it is used in his house or not (his cell phone wasn’t working well and I can’t hear the kids). I keep sending it nonetheless 🙂

    • R says:

      I completely understand your frustration. I have the same thing when my son shrugs off something and says “it’s ok” and I say “no it’s not.” I always feel that I have to okay proactive with my ex-husband so my so doesn’t start feeling what his dad wants him to feel.

  14. Hi N… I’m having trouble with being able to reply to comments. So, I’m approaching it another way for now 🙂
    I haven’t found a book that’s good for younger kids about healthy relationships, per se. There are other generic stuff that can be taught, though, which helps to build the conversation when it has something to do with their dad. For example, a little girl around the age of 4 was pestering my daughter who is older to play with her. She was demanding it, being rude and then using guilt trips to get my daughter to buy in. She remembers how she felt and equates those guilt trips to what her dad does. We’ve used bullying books, and the “I said NO!” book about private parts. There’s also a general book about “Making friends” which can be read in small sections. Any of these build the basis for any relationship – parental or not. The parental relationship is of course the toughest, but this foundational stuff at the younger age helps for teachable moments later. The biggest stuff is teaching about private parts being private, her body is her own, and that includes hitting or any type of uncomfortable touching by anyone (another kid, a teacher, another adult). Then, talk about safe people to discuss this stuff with and have her name who she should talk to if anyone (don’t name dad) ever makes her feel uncomfortable. Anyway… suffice it to say that for right or wrong, that’s how I’ve approached it!

  15. N says:

    Great post! I so wish to do this with my daughter. Its sad we have to but it will help so much in making better choices in partners for themselves and all relationships. Is there a book you reccommend for this topic? She is 3, but very smart and verbal. Right now I tell her that she can say ‘no’ to her daddy and that’s ok, and if he makes her feel uncomfortable she should tell nana and pop pop (he lives with his parents) and then me. But I’m not sure what else is appropriate for her age without making her nervous about going over there.

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