Five Crucial Elements for Healthy Relationships with Adults to Positively Impact Children’s Success and Well-being.
Expressing Care: A Key to Cultivating Thriving Relationships
Actions that Foster Strong Developmental Relationships through Expressing Care:
- Demonstrating Dependability and Reliability by Following Through on Promises and Obligations
- Actively Listening and Giving Undivided Attention during Conversations and Interactions
- Believing in Each Other’s Capabilities and Making Each Other Feel Respected and Appreciated
- Showing Warmth and Affection to Convey Enjoyment in Spending Time Together
- Celebrating Each Other’s Accomplishments and Supporting One Another’s Goals and Efforts.
Fostering Relationships through Growth-Challenging Opportunities
Deep Relationships Go Beyond Care: Challenging Each Other for Growth and Accountability” In meaningful relationships, trust and respect go hand-in-hand with having high expectations consistent with each other’s goals. Individuals challenge each other to reach new heights, hold each other accountable, and offer support when things don’t go as planned. According to researchers Brooke Feeney and Nancy Collins, this involves encouraging each other to pursue opportunities for personal growth and development, even if they are small steps toward bigger goals. This approach to relationships involves mutual encouragement and support to extend oneself and become the best possible version of oneself.
To foster growth in relationships, there are four key actions one can take:
- Set high expectations for each other to encourage reaching your full potential.
- Challenge each other to push beyond boundaries and strive for more.
- Hold each other accountable for actions and decisions made.
- Reflect on failures as learning opportunities.
Strengthening Relationships through Supportive Actions
Along with emotional support, practical support is crucial in fostering strong relationships. This involves helping each other to overcome obstacles and work towards goals. Here are four specific actions that can provide practical support in your relationship with a young person:
- Navigating through difficult situations and systems together.
- Boosting each other’s confidence to take charge of their life.
- Advocating and standing up for each other when needed.
- Setting boundaries that help keep each other on track.
Sharing Power: A Key to Deepening Relationships
Every relationship inherently involves power dynamics, although we may not always acknowledge it. In various cultures, the hierarchical nature of parent-child relationships may be assumed and unspoken, but perspectives on this dynamic can differ even within the same culture.
As young people grow, they must take on more decisions and responsibilities, which can impact their relationships. This process often deepens relationships as they become more mutual through actions such as:
- Respecting each other, taking each other seriously, and treating each other fairly.
- Including each other in decisions that affect them.
- Collaborating to solve problems and achieve shared goals.
- Creating opportunities for each other to take action and assume leadership roles.
By sharing power, individuals can foster stronger relationships that support growth, learning, and development.
Sharing power in relationships is based on two fundamental qualities: humility and mutual respect. Humility involves recognizing the value of others and acknowledging our own limitations, which creates an openness to sharing power. Similarly, mutual respect is built through seeing others take on responsibilities and solve problems. This, in turn, inspires us to offer others similar opportunities.
During our discussions with parents of teenagers who have experienced sharing power, they expressed sentiments such as: “As our children grow older, we emphasize that they have control and we expect them to make responsible decisions with it.”
By cultivating humility and mutual respect in relationships, individuals can build strong bonds founded on trust and equality, which in turn fosters personal growth and development.
Expanding Possibilities: A Path to Broadening Relationships
Young people are significantly shaped by conversations with trusted individuals, which can influence their sense of self and future aspirations. Therefore, a thriving relationship is not confined but rather open, expanding the other person’s vision of possibilities. This can be achieved through actions that expand possibilities, such as:
- Inspiring each other to envision possibilities for the future.
- Introducing each other to new ideas, experiences, and places.
- Facilitating connections to individuals who can provide support and promote growth.
- By expanding possibilities, individuals can help each other to explore and realize their full potential, which can lead to more meaningful and fulfilling lives.
Expanding possibilities involves more than simply exposing each other to new experiences. It also entails introducing challenging ideas that strengthen the capacity for critical thinking and understanding of the world. The ability to encounter diverse perspectives and reconcile them with one’s own is a crucial skill for character development and identity formation. Expanding possibilities cultivates curiosity and purpose as individuals’ minds are opened to new opportunities and their hearts and imaginations are inspired to work towards meaningful goals for themselves and society.
Young people need to encounter challenging perspectives and issues to learn to articulate their values effectively. These experiences are best approached within a trusting relationship with a family member, teacher, or another trustworthy friend or adult.
Some parents may feel uneasy about their teenagers discussing important issues with other adults. However, many of the parents we spoke with recognized the importance of outside perspectives. “Another perspective is always helpful for kids,” one parent acknowledged. “Most of the time, they don’t want to talk to their moms or dads. They might feel more comfortable talking to somebody else.”
Encouraging open communication with trusted adults outside the family can provide young people with valuable insights, support, and guidance. These individuals can serve as mentors, role models, or sources of inspiration, providing young people with a broader range of perspectives and experiences to draw upon. Ultimately, this can foster personal growth and development, promoting self-awareness, and expanding possibilities for the future.
Getting Started: Three Key Questions to Begin Your Relationship-Building Journey
While many parents and professionals working with children and youth may naturally engage in these relationship-building actions, some may be more challenging or less intuitive. Consider utilizing the Relationship Check tool for self-reflection on your relationships with young people.
If you’re wondering where to start with building developmental relationships, here are three questions to consider:
In what areas could you be more intentional? Some elements of a developmental relationship may come more naturally to you than others. For example, you may find it easier to challenge growth than to share power with your child or students. Consider experimenting with balancing your “relationship style” to include all five elements, even those that may currently be less familiar.
How can you become more responsive in your relationships? Being responsive involves paying attention to cues and responding in ways that meet the other person’s needs. Different situations may call for different levels of care, warmth, empowerment, and accountability. Practice listening and getting to know the other person well enough to respond in a way that aligns with their needs at the moment, even if they can’t express them explicitly.
Who might be harder for you to connect with, and how can you become more inclusive? We all have our preferences and tendencies when it comes to building relationships. However, it’s important to connect with young people across multiple dimensions of relationships. Challenge yourself to connect with those who may not fit your usual style, and consider exploring new dimensions of relationship-building that may be outside your comfort zone.
I enjoy tending to my flower beds, growing perennials that can survive the harsh Minnesota winters. At times, I’ll add a new plant to the mix and eagerly anticipate its growth, only to find that nothing much happens with it. Eventually, I’ll dig it up and move it somewhere else. Then, with some luck, I’ll start to notice new sprouts, leaves, branches, and maybe even flowers.
What changed? The plant was only moved a short distance, but it ended up where its roots could get the nourishment they needed—the right amount of water, phosphorus, and other nutrients essential for thriving. Although not visible, these changes had a powerful transformative effect on a plant that previously seemed hopeless just a few feet away, turning it into a thriving centerpiece of the garden.
Developmental relationships can have a similar effect. By inviting us to connect within and beyond our families, they not only have the potential to alleviate the current epidemic of loneliness that undermines our well-being, but they also have the potential to draw us into a future of thriving together. As we are nourished by diverse, relationship-rich families, schools, organizations, and communities, we can grow and flourish.