Have you ever said something and had your toddler repeat it out loud, causing you to immediately regret your decision to use that expletive or make that negative comment? Children mimic our words and our actions from a very early age, and the positive aspects of your behavior are also rubbing off on your young kids — including the stellar way you and your partner treat each other, as evidenced by these six signs your toddler sees a happy marriage.
Kids pick up on just about everything they see the adults around them doing. If you and your spouse constantly fill your home with love, support, and encouragement, it is bound to impact your children positively, but that doesn't necessarily mean perfect behavior from your child. When asked what some general signals are that a toddler is witnessing a healthy marriage, Sarah Hornack, Ph.D., a psychologist at Children’s National Health System tells Romper, "This is difficult to answer, since it isn’t the case that happy marriage equals perfectly well-adjusted child. However, a happy marriage and emotionally fulfilled parents can offer children a greater sense of assurance that their own emotional needs will be met, resulting in less overall distress."
I'm sure those of you who have experienced the highs and lows of the rollercoaster ride that is marriage can attest to your relationship impacting your child's behavior one way or the other. Take a look at these six signs your toddler sees a happy marriage, and see if any align with what you experience in your own home.
1. They "Play House" Well
When you were a kid, I bet you remember playing house with your friends and role-playing mom, dad, and kids while cooking, cleaning, or doing other household activities. Watch closely as your toddler begins to do the very same things with their siblings or playmates, and you just may find that they are modeling these playtime behaviors over what they witness you and your partner doing in your own home. If they play well with others when mimicking these roles, it can be a reflection of the happy marriage they see between their parents.
2. They Actively Communicate
Children ages 2 to 3 years typically have a vocabulary consisting of 50 to 200 words, according to Kids Health, and can follow simple two-step directions when prompted. This age of increased vocabulary and understanding means that your toddler will start interacting with you and your family members in ways that they see modeled for them in the home.
"Toddlers tend to mimic their parents, which can include positive and negative behaviors," Maureen Healy, author of The Emotionally Healthy Child and child development expert at Growinghappykids.com, tells Romper in an email. "Toddlers may repeat words such as 'angry' or 'mad' that you've used in an argument, and that's your sign he's witnessing your troubles and taking them in."
If you notice that your toddler comes to you when they have a need or uses plenty of positive words like "happy" or "yay," this may be a signal that they are modeling the same level of comfort and kindness with which they see you and your spouse communicate with one another.
3. They Express Their Emotions Appropriately
I could easily add "for their age" at the end of this point. Obviously, toddlers will be prone to bouts of tantrums and the evolving frustration that comes with being a small human in a big, big world, but in general toddlers who witness a happy marriage should be able to express their emotions in a way that is healthy and age-appropriate.
Dr. Hornack explains the potential correlation between marital conflict and toddler tantrums. "There has been research over the last few decades to suggest that conflict between parents — more specifically, hostile arguments, aggression, or giving the 'silent treatment' — is related to conduct problems in toddlers," she says. "In fact, it is seen that children as young as 6 months old show signs of distress related to parental discord. In toddlers, this may exhibit as greater irritability, increased tantrums, defiance, difficulty separating from parents, or aggression."
4. They Show Promising Conflict-Resolution Skills
"Though the presence or absence of parental conflict are not the only determinants of child behavior, arguments occur in all relationships and managing these disagreements calmly, in a positive way can be beneficial to young children," Dr. Hornack explains. "Observing these interactions might promote better conflict-resolution skills, like showing empathy and compromise, as children get older and may provide a model of prosocial ways to cope with negative emotion."
When your toddler has a disagreement with a sibling or a playmate, you may notice that their ability to compromise reflects how you model this same behavior in your marriage. As a parent, you are your child's very first teacher in life and they tend to do as they see you do.
5. They Show Affection
"Signs a toddler is witnessing a happier marriage or partnership include behaviors they're mimicking that are constructive and positive such as more healthy hugs, saying kind words to their friends, and learning how to share and cooperate in age-appropriate ways," Healy says. "The young child who can come up to me, give me a hug or say a kind word usually has positive role models and healthy relationships they've observed."
Mirroring the affection that your toddler witnesses you and your spouse show to each other is a hallmark sign that your happy marriage is helping your toddler understand how to appropriately express affection to others. Whether this means a big hug good morning to their sibling or holding your hand when they want to share a happy moment with you, your toddler may model what they see you and your partner doing to express your love for each other.
6. They Appear Well-Adjusted Most Of The Time
"Young children take in the totality of their life experiences, which includes mimicking the behavior of their parents, feeling loved if they get healthy affection and kind words, and cared for as their needs are met (for example, food, clothing, sense of safety)," Healy says. "Toddlers who experience a joyful early childhood home where they observe parents (and their caregivers) with a happier marriage, healthy mindset and habits tend to be better behaved. Said differently, they have good role models, which show them how to be in the world in a healthy way."
A child's behavior can be greatly impacted by the stability of their parents marriage, and while this is not the only determining factor for a child's overall behavior, it certainly impacts it. "Of course, we cannot forget every child is different and some need extra support in learning how to behave regardless of what their parents are showing them," Healy explains.