10 Characteristics of Healthy Adult-Child Relationships

Description of the characteristics

Healthy, functional relationships between adults and children (including teacher-student relationships) are characterized by the following. Increasing the presence of these characteristics in your relationships is a great way to improve commitment, communications, cooperation and consideration, and reduce stress and conflict as well!

This list applies to parents and care-givers as well as educators. Click here for a checklist to evaluate your relationships with students. Click here for a checklist for parents.

Proactivity

The ability to recognize and, whenever possible, accommodate the child’s need for unconditional love and acceptance, safety, belonging, success, limits, fun, recognition and control (power), without allowing anyone else’s needs to be violated. Anticipating; doing before (there is a problem); letting the child know limits or conditions ahead of time. Alternative to reactivity.

Win-win

The ability to get one’s needs met without violating anyone else, particularly with regard to empowering a child without disempowering oneself. The ability to resolve and prevent conflict by sharing power within an authority relationship. The ability to offer choices within limits to encourage cooperation instead of obedience and people-pleasing. Alternative to win-lose (powering or permissiveness).

Success Orientation

The ability to help a child succeed by giving clear directions, setting boundaries, offering opportunities to choose and negotiate, and requesting age-appropriate behaviors and responses. For teachers, this characteristic would include accommodating curricular and learning style needs, giving opportunities to self-manage and staying in present time (teaching according to a child’s current needs, not anticipated demands of other teachers or grade levels in the future). Alternative to unrealistic expectations, misunderstandings, instruction or environments poorly matched to child’s needs, and set ups for failure, passivity, or rebelliousness.

Positivity

The ability to differentiate the child’s worth from his or her behavior. The ability to focus on what the child is doing right and building on strengths. The ability to create a reward-oriented environment in which consequences are positive outcomes and incentives received or experienced as a result of cooperation. The ability to communicate positively (using promises instead of threats, emphasizing the positive outcome instead of punishment, for example). The ability to maintain a sense of humor. Alternative to negativity and punitive orientation.

Eliminating Double Standards

The ability to interact and communicate with a child in ways that would be acceptable if used in interactions with another adult. The willingness to maintain consistency between one’s own behaviors and those expected of the child. The ability to respond to a child’s behavior in similar ways as would be inspired by the same behavior if it were demonstrated by an adult. The willingness to accept the fact that childs require meaningful, positive outcomes for their efforts, just as adults do.

Boundaries

The ability to connect what you want with what the child wants in positive ways. The ability to motivate and reinforce cooperative behavior with outcomes other than adult approval or avoidance of negative adult reactions (shaming, criticism, abandonment). The willingness to withhold positive consequences until the child has held up his end of the bargain. The ability to immediately intervene breaches in conditions or limits of a boundary, avoiding warnings, delayed consequences, punishment, or praise.

Supportiveness

The ability to respond to a child’s problems or feelings with acceptance, support, and validation. The willingness to provide outlets for a child’s feelings that will allow the child to externalize the feelings (get them out) without hurting himself or others. The ability to help the child seek solutions to problems without enabling, fixing, dismissing, or judging the child’s problems or feelings. The ability to resist adopting a child’s feelings or take responsibility for the solutions to his problems, either directly solving the problems or giving advice or solutions (“shoulds”).

Integrity

The ability to maintain congruence between personal values and behavior. The ability to hear and respond according to inner guidance and personal values. The ability to act within personal value system despite potential or actual criticism from others. The willingness to make decisions based on what is best for a particular child or group of children, rather than simply, automatically following tradition. The ability to withstand judgment, criticism, and ridicule if necessary, without becoming defensive, apologetic, or reactive. The willingness to maintain documentation to support decisions, when necessary.

Responsibility

The ability to take responsibility for feelings, without attempting to make others responsible. The ability to express feelings in non-hurtful ways. The ability to depersonalize and resolve conflict. The ability to work with the child’s teachers (or other adults in the child’s life) without projecting blame or demanding that they take responsibility for solving problems you may be having with the child. The ability to resist blaming the child for lapses in your own behavior or language.

Self-Care

The ability to identify personal needs and feelings, set boundaries, take time for self, self-validate, and get help when necessary. The ability to distinguish between self-care and selfishness. The ability to feel deserving of self-caring behaviors and decisions. The ability to use personal mistakes and failures as opportunities for new goals, strategies or growth. The ability to utilize support resources while maintaining responsibility for solving one’s own problems. The ability to self-forgive.

Excerpted and adapted from The Win-Win Classroom, by Dr. Jane Bluestein, (Thousand Oaks, CA: Corwin Publishing, © 2008). Similar material also appears in Parents, Teens & Boundaries: How to Draw the Line and The Parent’s Little Book of Lists: Do’s and Don’ts of Effective Parenting by Jane Bluestein, Ph.D., Health Communications, Inc., Deerfield Beach, FL.

Related resources: 

Checklist: Evaluate Your Relationships (Assessment for teacher-student relationships)

Checklist: Evaluate Your Relationships (Assessment for parents and caregivers)

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