Communicating about relationships and values with your child

08 August 2022
Catherine Kirk
Catherine Kirk has worked in the field of Personal, Social and Health Education (PSHE) for over 20 years, as an author, trainer, and teacher. She has led PSHE development and support for two local authorities and is the founder of National RSE Day, a celebration of education around healthy relationships that is held in June each year. Catherine is a series editor and author of PSHE resources for primary and secondary schools and regularly delivers PSHE sessions to children and young people across the country. Her greatest joy in life is being a mum. 
Talking to your child about relationships and values is a new guide for parents, in collaboration with Fastn and Family Links. As we launch this guide, Catherine Kirk, Founder of RSE Day, asks us to reflect on what some of the best relationship advice is that we have ever received and how to approach these discussions with our children.

Last year I posed a question to a group of secondary school teachers, What’s the best piece of advice about relationships you’ve ever heard?” It was an interesting starting point for our training session together and I hoped it would open up discussions about the content and delivery of Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) with their students. I was surprised when very few were able to recall any advice, let alone the best piece’. All was not lost as the fact no-one could recall any advice was a useful talking point in itself!

How about you? If asked the same question, could you identify the best piece of advice you’ve ever heard? Did you follow it? Why? Why not? 

I regularly work with children and young people to explore relationships. Over the years I’ve noticed the influence of the media becoming more and more prevalent in discussions. This is usually framed in one of the following ways I watched this video on YouTube where…”, or There’s a story about this in [insert Soap]”, or Oh, that’s like this thing I saw on TikTok”. What follows is often a combination of facts, dramatic licence, misconceptions, views, values, and opinions. Consistently, in my time as a teacher, there is also a lot of My [parent/​carer] told me all about this”. Who or what would your child be quoting?

I often use current affairs, reality TV or social media trends as a way into discussions with my child (now 17, so arguably, I’m so out of touch!) Whilst we do not always agree, these conversations allow me the opportunity to share my own values about relationships, to explore the values of others and talk about the impact of relationship behaviours. I also discuss with him the learning about relationships he receives at school, again as a way into exploring values and behaviours. I’m keen to understand what he takes from both the formal RSE curriculum and the broader experiences and modelling offered by the school, how he interprets and reflects on this and what, if any, difference it will make to his life.

What is the best piece of relationship advice you would give to your child? 

The Cambridge Dictionary gives the definition of advice as an opinion that someone offers you about what you should do or how you should act in a particular situation.” As parents it is often easy to slip into the I know best” model of parenting, based on our own experiences and values. We need to demonstrate our values through our behaviour in order to be positive role models for our children. A useful approach when exploring relationships with children and young people is to encourage them to decide their own values, make their own decisions (and mistakes) and then, be a listening ear to talk through successes, perceived failures, and everything in between. By doing this, we are modelling to a child healthy relationship qualities including being able to listen, accepting people for who they are, recognising that people make mistakes and support. Yes, we can offer an opinion and the benefit of our experience, but we need to support children to make informed choices and manage the resulting consequences.

This new guide with Parentkind explores how to approach discussions around relationships and values with your child. It sits alongside these free resources for schools.

A few tips:

  • Demonstrate healthy relationships – children learn from observation and experience. Give them opportunities to feel what a healthy relationship is like through your interactions with them and others.
  • Keep trying – if your child chooses not to engage in one discussion, don’t give up! Try again on another occasion.
  • You do not need to be an expert – it’s likely your child will know more than you on some topics, that’s ok, you do not need to know everything.
  • Be open to learning – things change, technology moves on, in many ways young people’s lives are very different now to many of ours. Listen to your child and learn.