What Kids Learn from Your Marriage

"Modeling" for your kids

Turns out there is copious research to suggest that modeling -- a fancy word for behaving in a way you want others to replicate -- is a key but often overlooked component in a child's development. "Modeling takes place even before kids can understand verbal communication," explains Elizabeth R. Lombardo, Ph.D., a psychologist in Wexford, Pennsylvania, and author of A Happy You: Your Ultimate Prescription for Happiness. "As parents, we so often focus on teaching verbally, but we forget the importance of our actions." And no interactions are more visible -- or powerful -- to a child than what transpires between Mom and Dad. It's not just division of labor or gender-role stuff that matters; a longitudinal study published in 2009 by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services found that the quality of a child's parents' marriage had as much influence on his or her future mental and physical health and well-being as his or her own relationship with either parent.

"The most important relationship in any family is the marital one, and the best thing parents can do for their children is to love one another," explains Daniel L. Buccino, a clinical social worker and cofounder of the Baltimore Psychotherapy Institute. "By making the effort to value each other, parents teach their children important lessons about intimacy, conflict, and balancing work and home." Single parents, he adds, can demonstrate some of these same skills in healthy relationships with friends and family members.

We can urge our children to share or to fight fair, but the truth is that they are too busy watching every last move we make -- from the way we resolve disputes to how much quality couple time we share -- to listen to a word we are saying. This is how to use your marriage to model only the healthiest behaviors.

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