There is no one best way to parent. However, there is one necessary ingredient: make sure your child feels loved. Sounds simple, right?
Not so much. Loving your child and your child feeling loved are not one and the same. A parent’s love for their child is something so indescribable and deep rooted. Yet, just because a parent feels it, does not mean the feeling is automatically transferred to the child.
Note: When we say children, we mean all children – including teens!
What Goes Wrong
Children and adults do not often speak the same love language. In the words of Dr. Gary Chapman, It’s not enough to love your kids…You have to know how to communicate love to a child so that he genuinely feels loved.”
Often the conversation in our office goes like this:
Therapist: “I wonder if your child feels loved by you?” or “Sally reports feeling like you don’t love her as much as Kim”
Parent: “How could they possibly feel like I don’t love them?! They’re all I worry about and my reason for living. I do everything for them!”
It can be quite frustrating for a parent who’s working tirelessly to take care of their children to hear that after all that their child does not feel their love. Parents often forget that a child does not have the brain development or life experiences to be able to understand (or quite frankly care) that you are working 12 hour days to be able to afford their cheerleading uniform … out of love. Or that your countless hours a week in the grocery store and cooking healthy meals is .. out of love. If not the above, then how can a parent make sure their child feels loved?
Play With Them
Think about how you know a child likes one of his or her friends better than the other? Often times, they play with that friend the most. Find time regularly to play with your child one-on-one. This does not need to be a full day of arts and crafts – 15 minutes a day will do. Playing with a child will build a bond that lasts forever. It’s also a good time to get to know more about their world!
Take a moment to stop and give your child a hug, a kiss or have them sit on your lap. Several studies support that children who grow up with affectionate parents have better communication with their parents, higher self-esteem, higher academic performance and fewer psychological and behavioral problems. Physical affection is linked to an increase in the chemical Oxytocin, which is also released when a person feels loved.
We can not stress this enough! In the office it is quite common for children (teens especially) to report feeling “unloved” or cared for by their parents because they don’t listen to them. Take a few uninterrupted minutes to listen to your child – reflect back to them what they are saying, use verbal nods so they know you are present, and avoid making any judgements or giving advice. Just simply listen and actively try to enter their world. And yes, it can be hard to not give advice when your son is telling you about a friend that doesn’t sound so friendly, or not to get distracted while listening to your kindergartener tell you about their painting for the umpteenth time. However, it is important to listen nonetheless.
Figure out Their Specific Love Language
Dr. Chapman, mentioned earlier, created a tool to help parents figure out just exactly how their child receives love. He hypothesized that all people give and receive love in one of five ways: Words of Affirmation, Acts of Service, Receiving Gifts, Quality Time and Physical Touch. He hypothesizes that people often give love the way they like to receive it, rather than giving love in the way the other person likes to receive it. Use the link below to access the online Love Language quiz to figure out your child’s love language. Better yet, have your child take it!
Once you’ve discovered your child’s love language, you can use the list on the left created by Big Life Journal to better connect with them.
We hope this article give you some insight into how to deepen your connection with your child and have them know they are loved. If your child continues to state they do not feel loved or you suspect your child is not receiving the love you are giving, talk with a professional. Family therapy and parent-child interaction play therapy may be the answer.