15 Important Relationship Lessons I Learned From My Kindergartener

Little kids are like sponges. They absorb just about everything, whether we want them to or not. Parents will spend the first few years of their beautiful bundle of joy’s life supporting their growth and development. Once the baby becomes a toddler, and the toddler becomes a preschooler, the focus moves onto socializing the child. The steps taken here prepare them for the rest of their lives.

So much of what is taught in the early years of school, particularly kindergarten, lays the groundwork for how children will interact with their parents, their peers, their teachers, and eventually their romantic partners. Kindergarten is a mini community where rules are laid out thoughtfully to nurture a child's personal growth and development.

As my kids have entered Senior Kindergarten I've noticed a number of positive rules, regulations, and social conventions that influence the way they act and think every day. Sometimes they'll even step in and referee mom and dad when we aren't behaving quite as neighbourly towards each other as we should.

As parents, a number of things get rushed and skipped over, because there isn't time to pay attention and nurture beyond our children. Unfortunately this can leak into our romantic relationships. Parents can routinely act in ways they'd scold their child for, forgetting that little sponges are watching, learning, and modelling.

Here are 15 rules taught in kindergarten and how they can be applied to help adults strengthen their own relationships. Sharpen some pencils, class is in session.

15Sharing Is Caring

Parents of school-aged kids will probably cringe a little when they hear the phrase, “Sharing is caring”. This is because it’s usually whined by a child to their sibling when someone’s bogarting a highly coveted toy. Just the same, it’s a wise piece of advice.

For grown-ups sharing doesn’t usually mean handing over the doll whose shirt changes color when water is added, but the spirit is the same. Sharing as adults means sharing in responsibility, chores, blame when a mistake is made, and also some pretty good stuff.

Sharing as a couple needs to go beyond scheduling, which is the majority of conversations had by a number of parents out there. Spend some time to really share with each other, whether it’s about what happened at work, an interesting book or article read, a great new song, or a memory that popped up on Facebook.

The important thing here is to share in something together in the relationship, that is separate from being parents.

14Clean Up Messes

According to an article in Psychology Today mess causes stress. It makes our senses work overtime; it signals our brains that there is unfinished work. Clutter can create feelings of guilt, and it frustrates us because it can prevent us from locating needed items (keys, cell phones) quickly.

It takes kids a while to figure out that their toys aren’t magically put away by happy little elves, but parents should train themselves too. Just as kids need to learn accountability for their own actions, and messes, parents should also implement a little additional awareness of the messes they are making.

Sure sometimes a cup can be just a cup, but little things can add up, particularly if one partner is perpetually picking up after the other. This is another case of leading by example in front of the children; when parents show that cleaning up is everyone’s job kids are more likely to clean-up too.

Another factor to consider, as a couple you’ll be less likely to bicker because he stopped throwing his socks in the hallway instead of say, putting them in the laundry basket where they belong.

13Teamwork Is A Good Thing!

Workplaces are all about promoting a well-functioning team, as are kindergarten classes. Teamwork is something that can be worked on in a relationship as well. Since teamwork is a “we” scenario it can be as simple as eliminating blaming language such as, “you always” that a number of us are guilty of.

Every person in the family has a role to play, and working towards each other’s strengths, and nurturing areas that need improvement, things will get easier. Establish who takes the lead on various tasks and roles, or set deadlines. Conversation is key to determine timelines and creating a shared vision for what expectations are, and how you both measure success.

Miscommunication will create conflict and stress, so an open channel will help improve the winning spirit of a team. By celebrating the roles everyone on “team family” plays, parents and children included, people will be more willing to contribute, making everything run smoother in the long run.

12Live A Balanced Life

In kindergarten there is balance between work, play, dance, physical activity, alone, and independent time. As adults one of the first things we lose when things get busy is our balance. We work overtime, and we want to spend more time as a family, but then end up skipping time as a couple.

For those who won’t grant themselves this time, schedule it, whether it’s a monthly or weekly date night, or half an hour to go for a walk by yourself. Adele recently opened up about the importance of “me” time saying, “Eventually I just said, I’m going to give myself an afternoon a week, just to do whatever the f*ck I want without my baby.

A friend of mine said, ‘Really? Don’t you feel bad?’ I said, I do, but not as bad as I’d feel if I didn’t do it. Four of my friends felt the same way I did, and everyone was too embarrassed to talk about it; they thought everyone would think they were a bad mom, and it’s not the case.

It makes you a better mom if you give yourself a better time.” If Adele can make time for herself, the rest of us can too, even if it’s just 20 minutes.

11Say I'm Sorry

Accidents happen, on the playground and in grown-up relationships. The value of a genuine, heartfelt apology is much higher than most of us give credit. Apologies that follow with a “but”, like “sorry, but you did this, this, and that” doesn’t count. The apology needs to be about them, not a personal book of other grudges.

Relationship expert Dr. Gary Chapman recognizes that different people have unique “apology language” and says the best apologies: express regret, show responsibility for actions, display how the offending party can make things right, show repentance, and show humility in the way they ask for forgiveness.

He also notes that apologies that fall flat don’t feel heartfelt. This is often because they don’t have much thought or preparation put into them, they focus on issues and not hurt feelings, or they beat around the bush. Be honest, direct, humble, and speak from the heart.

10Take A Nap

There is much old relationship advice that focuses on not going to bed angry. As parents, people are often sleep deprived, and can be more easily agitated or argumentative, simply because they are overtired. Psychologists have found that partners who are able to log seven to eight hours of sleep each night are less likely to focus on the negative aspects of their relationship.

In fact a group of researchers from Florida State University believe that regular, quality sleep, “helps to restore function in the prefrontal cortex, the part of the brain that manages self-control, which is thought to improve our perception of relationships.”

The study relied on examining 68 newlyweds and had them record the number of hours sleep they manage each night for a week, along with asking them questions each day where they rated the quality of their relationship between one and ten, and found a strong correlation between quality sleep and overall satisfaction within the marriage.

9Friends Are Everything

In kindergarten kids focus on learning to navigate the complicated relationships that are friendships. This can be just as challenging for adults, particularly within a couple, as it is for five-year-olds. Parents tend to put their kids first, which is admirable, but also the basis of our martyr approved new world order parenting.

Assuming as a couple, the duo were friends first, before marriage or kids, they should remain friends first after children. A moment of reflection came to my husband one day when we were bickering in the car over something silly. Our four-year-old son said, “Stop fighting, you and mommy are supposed to be best friends.

Say you’re sorry and be nice.” When things feel heated, take a deep breath and reflect on how to talk to each other as friends first, not frustrated parents.

8Play Fair

It sounds simple right? Sometimes pride and scorekeeping can get in the way of this, but we need to be as kind to our partners as we encourage our children to be to the world. Don’t inflict your damage or baggage on others, cause it isn’t fair.

Sure they’re your partner, and your sounding board, but if you need more help than they can offer, see a professional, and don’t take it out on your loved ones. Dating and relationship columnist Dan Savage has a rule that he calls the “Campsite Rule” which can be easily applied to treating each other well, and saying sorry when wrong.

“In any relationship, but particularly those with a large age and/or experience gap, the older partner/more experienced partner has the responsibility to leave the younger/less experienced partner in at least as good a state (emotionally and physically) as before the relationship.

The campsite rule includes things like leaving the younger/less experienced partner with no STDs, no unwanted pregnancies, and not overburdening them with emotional and intimate baggage.”

7Take And Share Joy In The Little Things

The smallest things make the day of a kindergarten child; try to reignite this feeling within the relationship. The joy experienced by a little one when they’ve been offered the last cookie, been afforded the time to climb the big rock in front of school (even though there’s a time crunch) should also apply romantically.

My husband clips news articles he reads, that he thinks might interest me. Sometimes it’s a recipe he wants to try, or a topic he knows I’m interested in, or an event that will make a great date night. It’s small but it means a ton. Another parent I talked to acts as the “wine fairy” making sure there is always a chilled bottle of white in the fridge in the event of a bad day, or a need for celebration.

Sharing little moments together will help restore the joy and appreciation for the relationship on a whole. A hot cup of coffee, or a note in a lunch bag can go a long way for grown-ups.

6Never Stop Learning

Again, in the current parenting climate, it can be seen as a badge of honor to have abandoned all hobbies. This isn’t a good idea. Personal passion for anything beyond the children will inspire the entire family. It can be an excuse to get out of the house together, or alone. It’s another way to lead by example, as kids can see their “old dog” parents learn new tricks.

People with full and busy lives need hobbies just as much as retirees with all the time in the world. So take that knitting class, learn a new language in time for your big family trip. Whether this is something tackled alone, or as a couple it will serve as a source of inspiration for the whole family, and a little slice of personal joy.

Bonus points for those who schedule time to learn new things together.

5Don’t Hit

Seriously. But it goes beyond this, don’t say or do anything to intentionally hurt a partner (or anyone else for that matter). It sounds simple, but unfortunately a number of grownups are in abusive relationships.

Unfortunately abusive relationships can start very young. In fact, although 81 percent of parents surveyed didn’t believe teen dating violence is an issue, girls and young women between the ages of 16-24 years of age will experience nearly triple the national average rate of intimate partner violence. Emotional and physical abuse take a toll on everyone.

People who are victims of abuse can develop emotional and/or physical illnesses or symptoms completely separate from their abuse. This includes depression, anxiety disorders or the development of a substance abuse problem to “cope”.

Those who need help with their own anger management can connect with their health care practitioner to get recommendations on resources and programs available that will help.

4Watch Out For One Another

Look out for each other. This goes back to simple acts of kindness that will solidify people as a couple, and as a family. A famous quote from Shannon L. Alder about relationships is, “A best friend is the only one that walks into your life when the world has walked out.”

This is true of our romantic relationships as well. We need to take care of each other and be kind. In a recent study, it was revealed how science says lasting relationships come down to two basic traits. These are: kindness and generosity.

The article featured in The Atlantic on the topic stated, “In most marriages, levels of satisfaction drop dramatically within the first few years together. But among couples who not only endure, but live happily together for years and years, the spirit of kindness and generosity guides them forward.”

3Seize The Day

It’s a depressing message for kindergarten, but a good motivation to seize the day. This means enjoying life to the fullest, together. Waiting until there is an empty nest is not the best way to foster a healthy relationship.

Ferris Bueller said it best, “Life moves pretty fast. If you don't stop and look around once in awhile, you could miss it.” Don’t wait to foster meaningful relationships with people you care about, especially in a romantic relationship. There are many ways (besides being intimate) to emotionally connect with your partner on a regular basis.

These can include: creating couple rituals (this can be as simple as a Sunday Crossword together or an evening cup of tea), travelling together (even if it’s just a Sunday hike), or teach each other something. The most important gift we can give to our children and our partners is our time, period.

2Play Together

People who play together have fun. People who have fun are friends, and friends make for awesome life partners. Things you can do to “play together” include learning something new together (why not try that gourmet cooking class as a team), start a collection together (going out in search of used books, records, or that perfect piece of art together can become a fun hobby that creates a sense of comradery), or join a sports league together.

Another option can be a simple game to enjoy your time together. Some of the best two player card games are cribbage, euchre, crazy 8s. Others might want to opt for a game of chess or a more traditional board game. There are some great collaborative games for two players including Arabian Nights, Pandemic, Agents of Smersh, or browse your favorite game website to look for other options to keep you playing and working together.

1Celebrate Special Days And Create Traditions

Little kids love celebration, whether it’s learning about new holidays, taking their turn when it’s their day for show and tell, or belting out Happy Birthday at the top of their lungs. Take the time to celebrate special occasions within the relationship.

Milestones are important, so take note of them and give yourselves a pat on the back for what you have accomplished. Wedding anniversaries, the anniversary of the day a couple met, or the anniversary of a mortgage (you can celebrate each year you get closer to paying off your home) can be fun to toast together.

Making memories together can be as simple as an annual trip to check out holiday lights, a fun tradition for kicking off the first day of a vacation with a silly gift for each other, or even the ceremony of eating takeout together at the start of each month. Make it simple, make it something to look forward to and enjoy it together!

re, Huffington Post, Daily Mail, Psychology Today

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