Respectful relationships start early

How do curious and thoughtful young children who can work, play and learn together become part of high conflict and violent relationships as adults?

How does a child go from being an inquiring, kind preschooler to a young person or adult that abuses and assaults the people they love? This transition begins at some point and it’s important to ensure that children, right from the earliest years, learn about respectful relationships and the behaviours and attitudes that form lifelong healthy relationships.

It’s a question many people are considering today, White Ribbon Day 2015. New research shows boys as young as ten are already beginning to use excuses when describing violent behaviours and girls the same age use terms that blame themselves.

Looking around the young children at the Mia Mia Child and Family Study Centre, Director Wendy Shepherd wondered where behaviours and attitudes begin that lead to violence in later life. She had just read of another young woman killed violently by her partner and decided something has to change.

Wendy talked with colleagues, educators and Mia Mia families. Together they began a project to better understand family violence. Wendy discussed this recently with Early Childhood Australia as part of an initiative ECA is undertaking to foster healthy, positive relationships from the earliest years.

Start Early: Respectful relationships for life is supported by the NSW government and will launch in 2016. Meanwhile ECA is examining resources and developing three online modules with videos that look at respectful relations in early childhood, the role of gender, identity and respect and strategies for father inclusive practice.

The stories and statistics of White Ribbon Day show that violence against women and children needs urgent intervention and prevention. There is no doubt community change is needed at every level. This includes strategies to promote respectful relationships among young people and primary aged children. But we need to start even before school. The early years are the foundation for lifelong behaviours and attitudes. This is the time when children develop attitudes and strategies that take them into adulthood. Healthy self-esteem and respectful relationships free of violence and abuse start early.

Online modules and other resources will be available from March 2016 as part of ECA’s Start Early project.

Clare McHugh

Clare McHugh is Early Childhood Australia's (ECA) Strategic Communications Executive, working on projects that support ECA’s reputation as a trusted voice for young children, their families, educators and carers. Clare has been part of ECA's Learning Hub Team, managed ECA's Start Early. Respectful relationships for life project and ECA digital initiatives including the federally funded Digital Business Kit and Live Wires. Clare has been thinking and writing about children, family and social policy for a number of years, including for the Commonwealth Child Care Advisory Council and the Australian government.

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