How to Talk to Kids about Healthy Relationships

This post is part of our “I’m Stumped: Our Answers to Your Common Parenting Dilemmas” series.

By Dena Kohleriter, LCSW Licensed Clinician | Feb 15, 2016
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This post is part of our “I’m Stumped: Our Answers to Your Common Parenting Dilemmas” series. For all of the posts in this series, click here.

How many of you remember having a conversation with your parents about what healthy relationships are supposed to look like?


I ask this question a lot when I’m out training people, and the answer is almost always none. Almost none of us remember that, because almost none of us had parents who sat us down and talked to us about healthy relationships. Now, how many of us had a talk with our parents about sex? Most. So we talk about sex, but we don’t talk about healthy relationships. Hmmm. It seems like we want to understand healthy relationships long before we get into the world of sex.

The right age to start having this conversation with your kids is around sixth or seventh grade (but it’s never too late if your kids are past that age.) Here’s the thing. If we don’t talk to our kids about healthy relationships, they’re going to learn it somewhere else. They’ll learn it from watching your relationships, their friends, their friends’ parents, TV and movies. Not all of these are the most reliable or desired place to learn about relationships.

Kids will develop this fantasy idea of having a boyfriend or girlfriend. But they often don’t have the experience or context to know what that really means. So the best way to have a conversation is to simply open that door. You can ask questions such as:

“How would you want to feel when you’re with a boyfriend?”

“What are the most important things in a relationship?”

The child should be able to identify what is important in a relationship, things like having fun together, sharing values, respecting each other, enjoying spending time together.

If there’s one important piece you should make sure your child understands about relationships, it is this: equality. Any relationship that your child enters into should feel equal. Her needs and wants should be valued and respected as much as her partner’s needs and wants. No one person’s are more important. Two people in a relationship should be able to solve conflict without harm. That means without shouting, putting each other down, or physically hurting each other. Sometimes as adults, we mess this one up. Kids without the maturity and life experience might really mess this one up. They might feel hurt when things don’t go their way. They might get upset over things that seem small to us – I can’t believe he was texting Anna! He knows I don’t like her! But if they learn early on about the importance of equality and respect in a relationship, they’ll be much more prepared when things don’t work out. Unless your child is one of a very small minority, chances are she’ll go through several dating relationships in her life. Which means she’ll go through several failed relationships. She needs to learn what makes a healthy relationship so that she has the power and vision to see when things veer off course. So, long before you teach her about sex, sit down and have a chat about relationships. And remember the big takeaway – equality.

If you are concerned that you child is in an unsafe relationship, please stay tuned. We will be posting about that in our next blog post.