Respectful Relationships: Lessons for Life

What are children learning about respect and relationships in the media lately?

Think of the images and quotes that are splashed across all forms of media.

How will children learn to develop respectful relationships in this environment?

Relationships formed in childhood, good or bad, are likely to be repeated as adults unless new skills are learned.

Relationships are an important part of life.

The old adage, “No man is an island,” is true for every man, woman, and child. Any time two people interact, they have a relationship. True, some relationships are very short, such as the relationship between a cashier in a store and a shopper. Other relationships are longer, such as relationships between classmates or among family members.

Children learn about relationships in a variety of ways:

  • indirectly through observational learning: watching and replicating what they see
  • directly through passive learning: someone tells children what to do, and they memorize what is said
  • directly through active learning: students read, write, and solve problems to aid in developing knowledge, skills, and attitudes

Observational learning is powerful. Parents and teachers are major models of relationships. As children observe the adults in their lives, they often emulate the words, attitudes, and behaviors that they see. If adults model respectful relationships, children are more likely to develop their own respectful relationships with their peers. Of course, the opposite is also true. If adults model relationships that include poor listening, lack of empathy, name-calling, and other forms of disrespect, that is what children will do.

When adults tell children what to do, this is called passive learning. Passive learning about relationship often involves adults telling children what NOT to do instead of what to do. For example, if one child calls another child a name, the adult often says, “Don’t be mean.” This doesn’t instruct the child in what the acceptable behavior is. Also, it doesn’t explain what “being mean” is. This type of learning is not as effective as active learning.

Active learning involves children in reading, writing, talking about, and solving problems to deepen their understanding of respectful relationships. An example of actively learning about respectful relationships might include having the children read a story about friendship and then write in a journal about what characteristics they want in a friend. The next activity could be role plays where students act out situations involving friendship. This approach teaches children how respectful relationships sound and look.

Puberty: The Wonder Years teaches children about respectful relationships using active learning. Respect and relationship skills are taught in the following lessons:

  • Grade 4, Lesson 2 teaches how to express appreciation to family members.
  • Grade 5, Lesson 6 teaches how to show respect to their peers.
  • Grade 6, Lesson 4 teaches the difference between healthy and unhealthy relationships.
  • Grade 6, Lesson 5 teaches the difference between respect and disrespect.
  • Grade 6, Lesson 7 teaches how to use refusal skills to avoid unsafe or unhealthy situations involving relationships that aren’t respectful.

This chart shows how respect is described to students in grade 6:

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