One of the most important jobs of a parent is to teach a child what it means to love and to be loved.
When a child learns to love herself, she learns acceptance, pride, self-esteem, and inner strength. When a child learns to love others, he learns how to make connections with others, how it feels to be kind, and how to be vulnerable. When a child learns how to be loved, he learns that he is a person worth loving, that he is valued and wanted.
If a child’s needs are met with kindness and warmth, if he sees that he is cared for, a positive connection with his caregivers is formed, and he learns that people are good, and he can trust them for his survival.
- Let your child hear you talk about yourself in a positive manner. It’s a good thing for kids to hear their mom or dad discuss a positive work review or a good day on the job. Tell them you feel smart and beautiful.
- Talk about how you care for yourself. Making sure your body gets exercise, having fun with friends and family, and engaging in religious activities are all ways of loving yourself.
- Don’t put yourself down, especially in front of your kids. Don’t say things to yourself that you wouldn’t want to be said to your child. Instead, put emphasis on doing things that make you healthier. Instead of saying you’re not eating dessert because you’re fat, mention that you are trying to be healthier and make your body stronger.
- Talk to your children about how people show love to each other. It’s not just about hugs and kisses, but about doing nice things for others, listening to one another, and using kind words.
- Brain-storm with your child about unique ways to show people you love them. For a grandparent far away, it could be making a care package to send. For a neighbor, it could be shoveling a driveway or baking cookies.
- Touch them. Children thrive on positive touch. Hold their hands, cuddle with them at bed time, let them sit on your lap. Please be aware that all children are different and that there are some for whom physical touch is unwanted. This often is the case with children on the autism spectrum. If you don’t know if they want a hug or back rub, ASK.
- Use words. Children need to be told that you love them. Say it over and over. Say it when they’re 1, and when they’re 21. Say it in silly ways and in serious ways. Even when they say “I know, dad!” say it one more time.
- Remember, you’ll never regret telling them you love them too often, but you will regret it if you don’t say it enough.
As parents, we are our children’s first and most important teachers. By showing with our words and actions what healthy love is, we are setting the foundation for a lifetime of positive relationships.
photo from Shutterstock
Last reviewed: 11 Feb 2013
Harmon, J. (2013). Lessons in Love Part 1: Helping Children Learn to Love. Psych Central.
Retrieved on May 18, 2013, from http://blogs.psychcentral.com/your-life/2013/02/lessons-in-love-part-1-helping-children-learn-to-love/