It’s cliche but true: Kids are like sponges, soaking up everything around them. And yes, that includes words they hear, actions they see, and attitudes expressed about what’s acceptable and what isn’t. You know where I’m going with this. Just because they’re young doesn’t mean that they shouldn’t be aware of toxic behaviors they will encounter, even as kids.
How many times have you heard, Oh honey, he’s just being mean because he wants your attention? Bless you, dear parent. That justification for toxic behavior might have flown decades ago, but not in this day and age. I spoke with Zainah Ben Essa, a New York-based psychotherapist, to get some insight on empowering our kids to have healthy relationships. After all, fostering autonomy in kids, even from a young age, only empowers healthy relationships later on in life.
The Top Three Toxic Behaviors Your Kids Shouldn’t Normalize
1. Disrespecting Their Boundaries
Honestly, many of us are guilty of this one? When wrapping up a visit with family, many of us will tell our kids to go give hugs and kisses. While you might see it as a sign of love and respect, they might not see it that same way.
“When a child feels uncomfortable or resistant to saying hello (physically) to adult friends or relatives, don’t force them to. Forcing them sends the message that their comfortability doesn’t matter. Likewise, if their gut is sending a conflicting message, they learn to ignore it, and instead will do what is ‘respectful’ regardless,” Ben Essa said.
2. If They’re Mean to You, It’s Because They Like You
As an adult, if someone was teasing you or saying hurtful things, you wouldn’t assume it’s because they like you, right? Nope. Being treated that way doesn’t fly, and if you don’t put up with their toxic behavior, why should our kids?
It’s as simple as changing the script. Stop excusing other kids’ bad behavior by brushing it off as something kids do, and instead, empower your littles to not accept any of that BS.
3. Commentary on Body Image and Weight
For one reason or another, society seems to think it’s acceptable to comment on everyone’s body at any given time. We learn this and internalize it as how things are from a young age.
“By not commenting on our children’s bodies, we’re less likely to let things unintentionally slip,” Ben Essa said. “For example, praising them for being in a smaller body or being concerned if they are in a bigger body. Of course, it isn’t your intention to send the message that small is good and big is bad. But in reality, it comes across that way loud and clear. And while we’re on the topic of bodies, from a young age, we teach our daughters that their bodies take up too much space. When we make comments that police their bodies, it sends the message that we need to be apologetic for taking up space and existing.”
In the end, we’re all just doing the best that we can as parents. But by having conversations with our kids about toxic behaviors, we empower them to make decisions that lead to healthy friendships, relationships, and standards for the rest of their life.