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Healthy development depends on healthy relationships

Dr. Danielle Quigley, Post-doctoral Fellow, PREVNet

As I ponder the wonder and amazement in this child’s eyes as she wishes her mom a happy birthday, I’m struck with the feeling that this child must have relationships in her life that have filled her with this much love and the ability to express that love not only with her words, but with every expression of her adorable face. Not only is she cute as button, she reminds us of the good that comes with having parents and other socializing adults that care for, love and respect her. The evidence of healthy relationships in her life is palpable.

When children and youth enjoy healthy relationships – relationships characterized by respect, safety, trust and caring, developmentally appropriate independence and autonomy, communication, and fun – they do better in life (for a great review of the evidence for the importance of healthy relationships, see this report). Healthy relationships result in feelings of safety and connectedness with one another and while they don’t rule out the possibility of conflict, within them conflicts that arise can be worked out in a respectful and positive manner.

Developing the capacity for healthy relationships is essential to healthy development. Building this capacity depends upon positive relationship experiences which create positive expectations, and in turn, skills, competencies and abilities. Having the capacity for healthy relationships means knowing how to have and be involved in a healthy relationship. Relationship capacity is passed on to the next generation as children and youth learn or fail to learn what it feels like to be in a healthy relationship. They will inevitably internalize the attitudes and behaviours they see modelled by adults who are important in their lives.

This is why, as adults, we need to consider whether the critical relationships in children’s lives – which could be their family relationships, or relationships with other socializing adults or peers – have the capacity to promote children’s healthy development. That starts with us, in whichever capacity we find ourselves. We each have a responsibility to promote healthy relationships and eliminate violence in the lives of children and youth.

Within a Community of Practice, PREVNet together with Big Brothers Big Sisters, Scouts Canada and Red Cross has developed a training module to teach socializing adults – teachers, coaches, youth leaders, and anyone else who works with children and youth – the importance of healthy relationships and how to develop and maintain healthy relationships. A training event led by Dr. Joanne Cummings and Dr. Debra Pepler is coming to Toronto on November 18th, 2013 and another is scheduled for Calgary in March 2014. Learn more about how you can participate in the Healthy Relationships Training Module here.

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