I’ll apologize in advance, but I’m getting on my soapbox today. I recently took a couple of my children to the pediatrician for their well-child check-ups. I don’t know if your doctor’s office does this, but mine gives out a packet of “well child care” information that is tailored to the age of the child. It includes information around nutrition, development, safety tips, etc. As I was reading through one of the packets, I came to the section on behavior control, and found this gem.
“Use encouraging words when speaking with your child. Kids have a strong need to feel like they are valued in the family and with their friends. Tell your child every day that you love him.”
Wait, what? Why does this have to be in a packet at the pediatrician’s office? Isn’t this common sense? Is this like the small print on a fruit roll-up package that tells you to remove the plastic backing before eating? Or the instructions on the hair dryer that say not to operate while sleeping? (Both true, by the way). What is going on in this world that we have to be instructed to speak encouragingly and lovingly to our kids?
So let’s be clear. Tell your child you love them every day. Boys, girls, babies, toddlers, teens, adults – all ages and stages. Every day. I’m not a psychologist; I haven’t done extensive research and studies, but I’ve noticed in my own family that when my children feel loved, when they feel safe and secure in my husband’s and my affection, they’re much more open. They talk to us, they feel comfortable expressing their feelings about things, they’re more willing to obey and follow the rules. Saying “I love you” to the kids isn’t a silver bullet that gets rid of all anger and disobedience, but if my daughter knows in her gut that she is loved, that anger is expressed in a much more healthy and less hostile way.
Some people are uncomfortable verbally expressing love. I get that, and it’s true that there are tons of very important and impactful ways to express love that don’t involve those three actual words. Spending quality time, having meaningful conversations, providing a warm and stable home – all of those are ways parents show love to their children, and they’re incredibly important. But words are important, too. So suck it up and say them.
In my Sunday school class we’ve been discussing the Five Love Languages book by Gary Chapman. The one we’re reading is geared towards married adults, but he also has a similar book that specifically addresses children, if you’re interested. One of our “homework” assignments last week was to consciously give at least one word of praise or encouragement to someone we love each day. My sister-in-law decided to focus on her children, and she said something that I found incredibly profound.
She said that she had noticed that her most common words of affirmation were usually compliments based on the children’s behavior. For instance, she would praise her daughters for obedience, making wise choices or being helpful. There’s nothing at all wrong with that, but she said that one of her children is naturally more compliant than the other, so the obedient one got significantly more praise than the other did. This caused antagonism between the siblings, and feelings of jealousy and anger from the one who wasn’t praised as much. My sister-in-law resolved to adjust the way she approaches words of affirmation. In addition to praising her children for what they do, she will also praise them for who they are. Isn’t that beautiful? How encouraging would it be to know, deep down, that you are loved and valued as a person first, not just by your actions?
I did an informal survey around the lunch table today.
Me: Do your parents love you?
Me: How do you know?
7 year old: They feed us and take care of us.
9 year old: They keep us safe.
8 year old: They made us and they haven’t gotten rid of us.
6 year old: They play with us.
4 year old: They told me so.
My conclusion? Actions and words are equally important to the kids in our lives, and we as parents should use every single avenue available to us to let our children know we love them. Speak encouragingly and tell them you love them. Don’t be the idiot who eats the plastic.