What is love? What does it look like? The love a parent has for their child is profoundly deep. It encourages us as parents and educators to provide children with guidance, support and protection to help shape them into the person they are created to be. There are different kinds of love depending on the relationship, whether it be between peers, parent and child, or between adults. Ultimately love has positive qualities such as patience, kindness, truth, protection, trust, hope and perseverance.
Love is at the root of our self-esteem. There is no higher gift we can give to children. It is deeply satisfying and fills every human need to be cherished; to be loved simply for who we are meant to be. Love shows self-worth, self-acceptance and confidence. Experts say that a child’s sense of self-worth is the best predictor for their future, whether they will make good choices as a teen, have fulfilling relationships and become a well-adjusted adult.
Love is for everyone. We all need to be told we are loved, and always will be no matter what we do or don’t do. It isn’t about doing good things nor is it about having good qualities such as an abundance of talent, intelligence or beauty. All children have gifts and talents that are unique to them. While it is important to help children grow in their own abilities and passions, Gods’ mandate for us to, “Love God and Love others,” (Matthew 22:37-39) helps children to move out their circle of self to be inclusive of others.
Children are interested in others, even when very little they want what others have, and often mimic behaviours they see around them. When we help children to know what they are good at, like to do or look like we can show them that others also have likes, dislikes and different gifts and abilities. It is ok that we are different, unique. We can celebrate and grow their awareness and acceptance of others, an important social skill.
Have you ever been in the line at a supermarket when your child states in a very loud voice, “Why has that man only got one leg?” or (even more devastating) “Why is that lady so fat?” Children are naturally curious about others. Honesty is the best remedy, and if you don’t know, say so. Children instinctively know when we are being genuine. Children watch and listen to our every word. Use these opportunities to show kindness and inclusiveness of others.
They say it takes a village to raise a child. We are designed to live in community, with others. While this is not always comfortable, as we cannot control how others will behave, we can control how we behave toward others. So often a covering of love turns situations around and the love we need and seek comes back to us. Let’s teach children to love others anyway, to be the best you, and that it’s an ongoing task.
Practical ideas to show love to children and to help children show love and inclusiveness to others:
- Discover your love language. Then discover your child’s love language. Some things speak louder than others. For some its words of affirmation, some acts of service, or perhaps it’s receiving gifts or spending quality time together. It maybe simply physical touch, having cuddles and reading a book together. While all of these things are important to children one may speak louder than another. Help children to see that others have these traits and to show love we might do something for someone or go and spend time with a friend. You can read more about the five love language here: The Five Love Languages
- Plan for regular one-on- one time. Children need you to be present, in their now.
- Negotiate a time when necessary, as we cant be drawn into them controlling our time, they need to learn to wait as well. However, when you do play or spend time together, be present. Turn the TV off and leave the other screens (Phone, iPad, tablet) in another room or even better, go outside.
- When children share with you their problems, issues and joys try reflective listening first. This means we wait while the child is talking, without making comments that either dismiss the feelings children have as fleeting, they are important to the child in the moment. We also as adults have a tendency to try to offer solutions to fix the problem. Often the child needs us to just listen, with maybe a word of affirmation as to how they may be feeling. Reflect back to the child what they have said, without adding your own judgements. This is real listening, so often we listen to reply, rather than listen to reflect.
- Affirm and love children through both successes and mistakes. Through this children will learn that they are loveable. Your ongoing words and actions can bring Gods’ infinite love for every child.
- Show children how to recognise and handle bad choices, and through positive self-talk. ‘Catch’ children doing the right thing and making good choices. Offer words of affirmation and encouragement to show them that you noticed.
- When children make poor choices offer support and guidance using a soft and loving approach. There are two things your child needs to know when things go wrong, 1. You love them unconditionally, and 2. You are the boss, not them.
- Build a sense of belonging through games with others. Games, whether structured or made up, are an incredibly powerful way for children to learn about others. Just take a look at children in cooperative play situation, this usually happens around 4 and 5 years of age. Children love to role-play, particularly adult roles. There are usually role setting, leader and follower opportunities. It gives them a taste of what it’s like to have power, while children are naturally mostly powerless while they are young and under adults care. These appropriate experiences give them opportunities to test the waters with others, ‘see what happens when’, cause and effect experimentation in play. Children test out their hypotheses with each other. Practising these subtle social skills with others sharpens our knowledge of others and the skill of being a friend.
- Having a good friend first means being a good friend. Teach children to put others first. This requires us to build a sense of trust that our needs will be fulfilled. It comes from a strong sense of self-esteem, which comes from being loved! A sense of belonging and community can also be built through family traditions or through classroom culture.
- Create special times when you get together – it might be a simple as sitting around the table having a meal! Each person has a chance to talk about his or her day, or state one great thing and one not so great thing that happened in their day. What a fabulous opportunity to practise listening, and the art of conversation – this is where children pick up on the practise of looking at someone when they or you are speaking, and waiting a turn to talk or respond.