Adults are wired for intimacy and relationship – so are children. Here is how parents can cultivate a lifelong relationship of trust, love and authenticity.
How To Love Your Child Unconditionally: 4 Simple Ways
#1 Know and speak your child’s Love Language
According to esteemed writer Dr Gary Chapman, all of us – parents and children alike – have a “love tank” within us waiting to be filled. While teaching and disciplining is a huge part of parenting, too often we forget that what our children need most from us is our love. Love, is the foundation to successful parenting, not clever strategies or the best schools.
In his books, The Five Love Languages and The Five Love Languages of Children, Dr Chapman outlines the five main ways people feel loved – Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Gifts, Acts of Service and Physical Touch. Discover your child’s primary love language, and seek ways to keep their love tank “full”.
While you’re at it, why not do The Five Love Languages with your spouse, so that you can both keep each other’s love tank’s full? Happy parents and a happy marriage will definitely contribute to a happy, healthy child. And besides, if your own love tank isn’t full, it’s going to be hard for you to love your child with all you’ve got.
You can take the quiz online here.
#2 Accept your child for who they are
No child likes to be constantly held up against a benchmark and told – directly or subtly – that they don’t measure up. Comparisons and criticism are a sure-fire way to get your child’s defenses up and block that deeper connection that you long for.
While this certainly does not mean you don’t hold your child to a certain standard or encourage them to do their best and learn from their mistakes, parents need to be careful about the messages they are sending their children through the things they say and do. Does your child know that you love them “no matter what”? Do they feel secure in that love, or do they need to earn your affection and trust? Do they feel cornered and like they are always living in your shadow, or the shadow of their siblings?
#3 Respect your child’s choices
Closely linked to the theme of acceptance is a little word called “respect”. It’s so much easier to tell our kids what to do all the time than to seek their opinion. It’s harder to trust the choices they make, especially when we don’t agree with it. However, children need to learn to make decisions on their own, and our respect for the choices that they make and the willingness to support them in seeing those choices through mean a lot to them. That’s not to say, however, that we let our children make all their own decisions and just roll with the punches.
Seek to allow your children to make decisions at age-appropriate stages, and don’t show a black face if those choices aren’t quite the ones that you would make. As long as no one is in danger or breaking the law, ask yourself the question, “What’s the worst that could happen?”
And the best thing? Your child could gain much needed confidence and self esteem from the autonomy to make a key decision, and be greatly encouraged by your willingness to let them take the wheel for a change.
#4 Listen, and leave the past behind
How we see the present is almost always coloured by our past experiences, good and bad. In the world of parenting, it’s no different. Too often, we use phrases like “you always…” and “you never…”. While these may certainly be true, such words do nothing to forge a deeper bond with our child, but drive rifts into the relationship.
Seek to treat each episode discretely, and don’t drag the past into it every chance you get. It’s also wise to avoid an accusatory tone when you are clarifying things with your child. There are always two sides to a story and sometimes, what our children need most is our willingness to listen and see their perspective – not necessarily to agree.
For example, if a habit recurs regularly, you might want to say, “It seems like this happens quite a lot now. What can we do about that?” instead of “You always do this! What’s wrong with you?” At the heart, it’s about coming alongside your child to help him on his way, one step at a time, instead of dictating his behavior from the side.
See also: Help! My Toddler Isn’t Listening
The truth is, our children can very well drive us up the wall. Some days, it can even feel that the deep parent-child or husband-wife bond that we so desire is as elusive as chasing after the wind. Perhaps, you have tried some of these ideas, and haven’t met with much success. But don’t despair. Try something else, get feedback from friends you trust, and keep going. If nothing else, your child will eventually see the effort you are making, and trust that it will mean something to them.
By Dorothea Chow
This was first published in The New Age Parents e-magazine