The relationships that are demonstrated between the adults within the child’s family provide powerful experiences of how to manage these outside of it. Whilst children may not be able differentiate between helpful and harmful responses to situations, they are reliant on adults to provide examples of this for them. The way that this is shown to children can either help or hinder their ability to build relationships themselves.
What messages may be provided by the following situation:
A child witnesses their parents arguing and fighting. Mum tells dad to leave and mum gets a new boyfriend. Mum tries to stop dad seeing the child as a way of punishing him. Dad refuses to give mum any money until she lets him see the child and tries to phone the child to speak to them. Mum refuses to let the child speak to dad or have any contact with him.
Messages to the child:
- Conflicts are not resolvable
- Relationships are replaceable (mum gets new boyfriend)
- Relationships are about power and control
- Relationships are not about compromise or negotiation
- Relationships are confusing and unpredictable
- My thoughts and feelings don’t matter
Children bring their templates of how to build and maintain relationships with them in to school. Each child already has countless examples of relationships they have experienced and witnessed by the time they come to school and their experiences at school can either reaffirm or challenge this.