“What is love?” Your kids may ask innocently when they hear you tell them how much you love them.
How do children know they are loved? Infants may not know the esoteric underpinnings, but if their survival needs are met, their sense of security is strong, which helps them thrive as they develop. As toddlers, children implicitly trust their parents, relying on them for comfort and safety, testing their newfound independence and yet revelling in the bonds of affection. Preschool through teenage years, children grow so rapidly that love is the one constant factor that can support and sustain their explosion of development. Every child knows love instinctively and can recognise its many manifestations.
Why say “I love you”?
Parents may wonder, Why tell my children that I love them? Don’t they know it already? Isn’t it understood? What is the point of saying it every day? The simple answer is Why not? However, delving deeper into the Why of it, there are at least five good reasons:
As children grow, they need someone to trust, someone to turn to for guidance, someone who won’t criticise or ridicule them. When you tell your kids you love them, they know that they can trust you implicitly. They realise that no matter what, their parents believe in them and have their best interests at heart, and will not abandon them. This provides a safety net as they navigate the complexities of this world.
A strong foundation helps children take risks and venture out into the world to be their best. And courage is at the root of it all. When we love our children with no strings attached, we also give them courage to make mistakes, and fail but still find the strength to try again because they become fearless when enveloped in love.
As a rite of passage, teenagers struggle with questions of likeability. Is their worth tied to their looks? Their accomplishments? Or their uniqueness? Should they try to please their peers in order to be likeable? Are they valuable human beings simply for who they are and the values they hold high and live by? While love may not cast out self-doubt entirely, it instils confidence and self-reliance that can carry a child through these difficult periods of development.
In a world driven by an attitude of ‘What can others do for me’, love encourages the ‘What can I do for you’ attitude. A child who has received unconditional love learns to reciprocate in kind.
Mutual love lets us speak our minds with no fear of judgement or consequences. A child who feels loved also learns to communicate with due respect. And communication is the key to any successful relationship.
More than mere words
On the other hand, just mechanically saying the words, “I love you” does not accomplish much. And potentially, those words may not mean much to a child who hears it too often and therefore ceases to pay attention to it.
Rather than focussing on just saying the words, it is important to communicate in a way that is meaningful to the child. The expression of love that deeply connects a parent with their child is unique to their relationship. One child revels in physical affirmations like hugs, cuddles and kisses; another might prefer quality time playing games or completing a project together. While one child feels overwhelming love via special actions that parents do for them, like taking them to a favourite park or cooking a favourite meal, another might blossom under repeated words of affection—not idle praise, but true words of appreciation and acknowledgement.
The best way to convey the “I love you” message to your child is to know which of these several ways of expressions resonates with them the most. Ask them who loves them, and why they think so. This will give an insight into what form of interchange the child responds to when it comes to love. The language of love translates to the intangible bond of affection that the child recognises and appreciates. Once your child becomes aware of the various things you are doing to show your love, s/he will start to feel it and delight in it.
Some ways you can convey your love
- Pack your child’s favourite lunch as a surprise and add a little note or a poem in the lunch bag
- Put away all electronic devices and other distractions and focus on having a conversation with your child about their school day
- Cuddle on the sofa and read their favourite book
- Go to a cricket match or concert to enjoy an afternoon together while you accumulate memories
- Offer words of acknowledgement and appreciation with no conditions attached.
Learning to speak the language of love that your child understands is a skill that is essential for establishing a positive relationship that flourishes over time.
It is especially difficult to communicate your love when your child is misbehaving or attracting negative attention. By separating the behaviour from the fact that your child has your unconditional love, it is easier to set the expectations for appropriate behaviour.
Even if the no-frills verbal “I love you” does not feel natural or easy for you, it is still worth the effort to identify when such an expression of love is best received, and in what mode and manner. With practice, we can get over our own discomfort and arrive at the most comfortable way to express our love. By declaring each and every day that we love our children, we keep the attachment strong and, at the same time, reassure and nurture our children to flex their wings and fly.
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