Building Healthy Relationships

Our Building Healthy Relationships program seeks to stop violence through early intervention. With integrated components for elementary, middle and high school, we help students build the social-emotional skills they need to treat one another with respect and dignity as they mature.

Elementary school children sitting on the floor listening to a teacherChildren in grades K-5 are learning how to get along with others and manage their behavior in the classroom and on the playground. Incorporating games and role-playing, we work with children at this age on self-awareness, self-management, relationship skills and responsible decision making, specifically:


  • understanding how someone else might feel and caring about it
  • learning to see other points of view

Problem Solving

  • controlling impulses and developing positive communication skills

Dealing with Bullying

  • understanding the difference between bullying and conflict
  • learning assertiveness skills
  • being responsible as a bystander

Emotion Management

  • taking control of our own reactions
  • managing stress and learning to how to calm ourselves

The development of these critical social and emotional skills enhances the learning environment so that students are positioned both to do better academically and to treat one another with dignity and respect as they mature.

Middle school children standing together on steps in schoolFor pre-teens, relationships and social life in general become increasingly important. Building on the framework used in elementary school, we work with middle school youth on skills that help them navigate their newfound desire for connection, exploring the following:

Building a Strong Sense of Self

  • recognizing positive qualities in ourselves and others
  • reducing stereotyping and labeling
  • laying the groundwork for recognizing what is unhealthy

Peer Pressure and Problem-Solving

  • recognizing negative and positive influences
  • intervening as a bystander

Dealing with Cyberbulling and Gossip

  • recognizing and avoiding cyberbulling and gossip
  • learning how to respond when it occurs, both as a witness or bystander and as a target

By establishing healthy communication patterns, enabling the identification of negative behaviors, and learning to break the cycle and patterns of abuse, teenagers come to understand their roles and rights in relationships, addressing potential areas of conflict before real, long-term issues develop.

Facilitator in front of a classroom of childrenHelping teens and young adults recognize what is healthy and harmful as they begin to engage in dating and intimate relationships is vital. In small group settings, we foster a safe environment where teens can share and discuss:

Healthy and unhealthy relationships

  • recognizing the qualities of a caring relationship
  • identifying and avoiding harmful and abusive behavior
  • overcoming gender stereotypes

Setting and honoring healthy boundaries

  • recognizing our own behavioral/sexual boundaries
  • honoring boundaries under pressure
  • healthy communication skills
  • learning to be assertive
  • handling strong emotions
  • caring for ourselves and our friends

What to do to be safe

  • who to go to with a problem
  • how to support a friend
  • how to access resources if necessary

A significant component of this effort is not only to provide information and education to young people, but also to administrators and teachers. Intimate partner and teen dating violence may happen outside of school, but these events and their effects are carried directly into the halls and classrooms.

YWCA invites Evanston School District 65 middle school students to become “Building Healthy Relationships” peer educators to D65 elementary students.

Building Healthy Relationship Peer Educator Program

Peer educators will participate in a weekly virtual, after-school training program to learn how identity, power, personal safety, bullying, and consent factor into creating equitable interpersonal relationships. With the guidance of YWCA Building Healthy Relationships adult educators, they will take what they learn and co-teach younger students.

This is a great after-school club for Evanston middle school youth interested in social justice, advocacy, and empowering youth of all ages to create the change they want to see in their peer groups and schools. To apply, click here.

Building Healthy Relationships addresses benchmarks in the Illinois Board of Education Learning Standards, which are based on research supporting the link between academic success and social emotional skills. In short, students who can solve problems, get along with others and make good choices do better academically.

With your support of this program, you are supporting student achievement and helping young people to break cycles of abuse and build safe, healthy relationships and violence-free futures.

If you are interested in learning more or would like to include Building Healthy Relationships programming in your school or community organization, email our Domestic Violence Director, Hillary Douin.