“Love is the foundation on which every practice of good parenting is built.”
There is no denying that all facets of parenting depend on how influential we are with our children. Do our children really listen to us? Do our children agree with what we are telling them or do they just follow what we tell them because of the fear of punishment? Do our children respect who we are and what we say? How willing are our children to consider our advise and correction?
The answers to these questions have very much to do with whether our children feel that we love them. After all, children will listen to us when they trust us, and trust grows from love. If children feel that we have some hidden agenda or some ulterior motive, then the chances of them listening to us are remote. Similarly, if they feel that we are using them as a means of emotional relieve, or as a means of furthering our own status and ambition, then what reason do they have to respect and follow what we teach?
Love is the foundation on which good parenting is built. When children grow up in a household that is filled with love and kindness, they will blossom. Love is the water that enables growth and development.
Here are some ways you can express your love to your children in healthy ways that will encourage their growth and development into holistic adults.
1. Enjoy time with our children
Do we look forward to spending time with our children? For some of us, parenting has become so much about teaching, training, empowering, shaping behavior and meeting goals, that sometimes we forget to simply enjoy being with our children.
In our busyness and lethargy, it is easy to see our children as just another chore to be taken care of, another problem to solve. We need a change of mindset. We need to remember that feeling of joy and excitement when our first child was born, the feeling of absolute amazement when we held them for the first time.
Perhaps we also need to find things that we all enjoy as a family. Perhaps playing board-games together, or going to the park together are things both parents and children can enjoy. Even working on handicraft projects or drawing and painting together can be fun for the child and therapeutic for the parent.
2. Discover the Beauty and Wonder of Our Children
In a world that has become so overly competitive, it is very easy for us to overlook the unique beauty of our children. In our eagerness to make our children smarter, faster, bigger and better than all the other children, we lose sight of the special things that make them who they are.
We must let go of the notion that parenting is a form of competition. Parenting is about helping our children see the beauty of who they are and to do that we must first learn to see this ourselves.
My wife and I are amazed everyday at our young daughter. In spite of all our book-knowledge, training and preparation, she always finds ways to surprise us. The way she smiles when she is happy, the way she laughs and her unique sense of humor, the way she sits up when she’s excited, the way she plops down on the carpet when she is tired, the way her eyes light up when she plays with other children, the way she mischievously tries to hide when its bath-time, her unquenchable curiosity, her absolute love for animals, the sparkle in her eyes when she looks at the moon and stars, the way she sings and dances in front of the television, the way she welcomes us home after a long day at work. These are the small wonders, the little joys that remind us of how special our children are.
For those of us who have forgotten to appreciate the things that make our children special and unique, we need to start opening our eyes and discover afresh, who children really are.
3. Find ways to express our love to our children
Saying words like “I love you”, “I am proud of you”, “you are special and important to me,” are healthy ways of helping our children feel loved. However, some parents come from conservative family backgrounds, where the expression of love and other emotions are frowned upon and discouraged. Therefore, expressing love so explicitly may be very awkward and difficult for some of us.
There are many different ways of communicating our love for our children. What is important is that our children must know, and know for sure, that we love them. Sometimes a gesture says more than a thousand words. Hugging our children, holding them with joy and affection, demonstrates to them in a very real way, the fact that they are precious to us. Buying them gifts and taking them to places that give them joy are among the many ways we can express just how precious they are to us. The most eloquent expression of love, of course, is just spending quality time with them, being present minded, without letting our mind wander to work and other pursuits in life.
4. Choose to Offer Unconditional Love
Sometimes as parents we mistakenly convey the message to our children that our love is something they must earn, by being good, by obeying us, by performing to the standard we demand. It is unfortunate but true, that there are many insecure people who struggle with their self-worth and self-esteem because they feel they are of no value in the eyes of their parents. There are many grown adults, who till this day, know no peace and contentment in life, because they feel they have disappointed their parents and as a result, they have not known the security of unconditional love.
While rules and punishment are an important part of disciplining our children, we must not use our love as a bargaining tool in our efforts to get our children to obey us. A true parent’s love is unconditional. Come rain, come shine, for better or worse, through all the indiscretions big or small, through all the mistakes and the hurt they may cause us, at the end of it all, when all else changes and fails, our love for our children remains.
Contrary to popular belief, when children are assured of our love, they are not encouraged to be more disobedient or hurtful. Love does not mean the absence of discipline. Similarly, affection is not a license for disobedience. Children will still realise that our love is not something to be abused and that because we love them, we will sometimes punish and discipline them when needed. In fact, a child who knows unconditional love is a child that is more likely to understand discipline and who obeys out of genuine respect rather than fear.
Practicing unconditional love is easier said than done. When we are angry, disappointed and frustrated, it is not easy to act out of love. However, love is not merely a feeling. It is a decision and commitment we make to our children. We are not kind to our children only when we feel like it; we’re kind because we have made a lifelong decision to love them as they are.
Love is a stepping stone for much of parenting. It enables effective discipline, effective teaching and effective nurturing for the child. More importantly, love is the REASON why we discipline, teach and nurture our children. Some of us need to remember this truth again.
This article was originally featured in My Precious Tots – A comprehensive parental guide to your child’s early years.
Written by Dr. Goh Chee Leong, Psychologist, HELP University & Director of HELP International School; PhD in Psychology (University of Otago, New Zealand)