Healthy (and unhealthy) relationships don’t just start during teen years or when a young person begins dating. Healthy friendships can be an important building block for future healthy dating or romantic relationships. It’s never too early to discuss and reinforce key relationship skills.
Helping youth recognize emotions in themselves and others is called “emotional literacy.” It requires self-awareness to recognize one’s own emotions and empathy, which allows us to recognize someone else’s. In strong, healthy relationships, people pay attention to their own and each other’s feelings with genuine concern for each other’s well-being. These skills can be nurtured in young people by asking them if they can recognize how another is feeling. Naming feelings expands a child or teen’s emotional vocabulary.
Nurturing empathy in youth of all ages. Look for everyday examples of youth being able to “put themselves in someone else’s shoes” to understand another’s perspective or feelings. Books and movies are good places to look for characters demonstrating an ability to understand how someone else is feeling. Ask older youth and teens about their favorite streaming shows or songs, and if they can identify characters or songs that promote empathy for others.
Recognizing another’s feelings allows one to better respect boundaries. Boundaries are often described as limits. In healthy relationships people respect each other’s personal space boundaries (how close someone wants another to be) and emotional boundaries (how someone wants to be treated). We can teach youth the skills to read body language and facial expressions to recognize another’s boundaries. Respecting boundaries is critical for consent.
Coping with strong emotions is another important healthy relationship skill. All relationships experience ups and downs but in a healthy relationship, the downs never include physical, emotional or sexual abuse such as lashing out in anger or using anger to control others. If we can help young people learn healthy ways to cope with strong feelings, they will carry those skills to more complicated relationships when they are older.
TPN is invested in healthy relationships education because these skills prevent abuse and provide foundational skills that will help grow a generation of young people who can navigate relationships with respect as the compass. We’re here with resources and support to help you talk to young people in your life.
OUR TURN is a public service series by Turning Points Network (TPN), serving all of Sullivan County with offices in Claremont and Newport. We provide wraparound supports for survivors of domestic and sexual violence, stalking, and sex trafficking and we present violence-prevention education programs in our schools. For more than 40 years, TPN has helped people of all ages move toward living with respect, healing, and hope that we all deserve. We can be reached 24/7 on our crisis and support line at 1.800.639.3130. Between 9-4 Monday-Friday, we are available on our chatline at www.turningpointsnetwork.org or by text at 603.506.6553.