The Importance of Modeling Healthy Social Relationships and Boundaries

Children often look to caregivers for advice and imitate their behaviors. Adolescents and teens who do not have consistent parental guidance may have difficulty establishing healthy personal and social boundaries. Adopted and foster children have a higher risk of experiencing parental neglect. Behavioral and attachment issues like reactive attachment disorder (RAD) can develop if children do not learn how to connect with others. Havenwood Academy uses evidence-based treatments to help teens with behavioral issues learn essential social skills. We also educate parents on modeling healthy behaviors.

Factors That Affect Childhood Social Development

Children learn by observing the people around them, especially family members and authority figures. Adults who model healthy behaviors show children how to set good boundaries and communicate effectively. Unfortunately, some children do not have access to consistent or healthy social dynamics. They may have lived with adults who were neglectful, violent, abusive, or dismissive. This environment hinders their ability to learn essential life skills.

If a child’s norm is toxic relationships and conflict, they may struggle to create healthy connections with peers and adults. Children who experience parental neglect due to divorce, disability, or chronic illness may develop similar attachment issues. Other factors that impact a child’s ability to build healthy relationships include:

  • Age
  • Family dynamics
  • Social pressure
  • Family history of substance use or mental health disorders

Parental relationships are essential to childhood mental health. According to StatPearls Publishing, “[S]ocial-emotional development begins with parental bonding.” If the child’s adoptive parent remains consistent and models healthy behaviors, the child is more likely to develop essential social and emotional skills.

The Impact of Modeling Healthy Behaviors

Adopted and foster children may have significant difficulty setting personal boundaries or connecting with peers. In addition, children who have attachment disorders or trauma related to adverse childhood experiences (ACEs) may have a hard time trusting others.

Parents who model appropriate social interactions give their child context for properly navigating these interactions. Watching parents cultivate trusting and healthy relationships can help adopted or foster children feel more comfortable forming more profound relationships.

Adopted and foster children may have childhood trauma related to neglectful or abusive caregivers. Being introduced to healthy family dynamics after spending years without positive role models sometimes causes confusion. According to the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), “People who were adopted may be challenged by intimacy or becoming close to others due to losses resulting from adoption.” If your child had to leave behind family members and close friends in the adoption or foster process, they might feel scared to make new connections.

Encourage Your Teen to Establish Healthy Social Boundaries

Teenagers face many challenging situations at work, school, and home, especially when they’re carrying the weight of ACEs. Social stigmas surrounding mental health and trauma can make it difficult for children who struggle with attachment issues to form healthy social bonds. Parents can encourage them to establish healthy boundaries by doing the following:

  • Introducing them to alternative points of view
  • Maintaining an open line of communication
  • Encouraging them to practice conflict resolution
  • Normalizing mental health treatment

Parents — adoptive or otherwise — should educate their children on how to avoid internalizing stigmas and social expectations. If a child encounters issues at school or at home, their parent can talk them through the problem and help them find healthy solutions. Active listening and acknowledging the validity of their emotional experience go a long way. Teens can increase their self-confidence and self-esteem by watching how their parents resolve conflict and interact with others. Children have an incredible ability to learn, heal, and grow if they have reliable caregivers to model.

4 Ways to Model Healthy Social Behaviors

Parents can help their children learn how to form attachments by modeling healthy social behaviors. Giving one’s child the information they need to cope with conflict, empathize with others, and maintain critical interpersonal connections is critical. Witnessing how a parent resolves issues and relates to others will show the child how to maintain healthy relationships with loved ones, friends, and peers. Parents must remain consistent in their reactions and honestly answer any questions they have about appropriate behaviors.

Below are four ways parents can model healthy social interactions:

#1 Model Trust and Respect of Others

Show trust by respecting the opinions of others and reacting objectively, even if one disagrees with them. Remain empathetic and consistent. Communicate one’s own alternative opinions without judgment or expectations.

#2 Communicate Regularly With Your Support System

Regularly communicate with the important people in one’s life to model relationship maintenance. Check in with family members and close friends frequently to show the value of interpersonal connections.

#3 Act With Compassion

Show forgiveness and compassion by being willing to compromise and find healthy ways to cope with conflict. A child should learn that people can get along without agreeing on everything.

#4 Model Healthy Boundaries

One’s children must know when and how to set appropriate boundaries with their peers and loved ones. Some adopted and foster teens may have difficulty understanding appropriate boundaries. Their parents’ relationships will show them the importance of setting and maintaining personal and social limits with others.

Children learn to overcome conflict and cope with daily stressors by watching the adults around them. If you model appropriate and healthy behaviors, your child will have increased confidence in their ability to cope with social challenges. As your teen grows into a young adult, they will face new situations at home, work, and school. You can help them prepare for those moments by showing them how to cope with conflict. How you react to various social situations will impact your child’s social development, so make sure it’s for the better. Havenwood Academy provides evidence-based treatments for teens struggling with attachment issues. We also educate parents on ways to model healthy behaviors. To learn more, call us at (435) 586-2500.


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