Monday, January 30, 2017

5 ways to really show your kids love

Now that Christmas is over, you might be experiencing buyer’s remorse for all the money spent on gifts. Christmas is a time when parents feel especially pressured to buy their children objects in order to show their love. You might be surprised to learn that the more gifts a child receives, the less he or she actually feels loved. In fact, kids respond to other gifts much more readily than a new toy or electronic device.

Here are 5 things you can do to help kids truly experience your love: 

Eye Contact: Making eye contact is not only helpful in communicating with a child, but also in filling her emotional needs. This is especially important during the younger years, during which time a child is learning if they can trust their parents to care for their needs, if they are loved and accepted, and what their role is in the family. Loving eye contact and the parents’ physical presence communicates value, confidence, warmth, acceptance, and security. 

Take their feelings, thoughts, and opinions seriously whether you agree with them or not: Children and teens already deal with enough insecurity without feeling mocked or having their thoughts disregarded. Allowing your child to share with you about their ideas and opinions helps you to get to know them, discover what they are dealing with, and understand why they do, think, and feel as they do with greater clarity. Show interest by asking questions to show you are willing to hear them out and accept them as an individual. If you must correct something off-base, it’s best to start with something that will keep the window of opportunity open, such as, “What do you think about this other idea ….?“, or “Can I share with you what I’ve experienced with this subject?“ or even, “What if…?“ Remember, no kid wants every conversation to end in a “teaching moment,” a correction to their beliefs or opinions, or a rebuttal. Sometimes the best way to conclude a conversation with a child is to simply thank them for sharing their thoughts with you. Carol Wise, author of Pastoral Counseling: Its Theory and Practice, writes: “A person cannot communicate the deep intimate aspects of his life to another unless he has a feeling of security, confidence, and trust in the other.” 

Physical Contact: Loving touch including hugs, arms about the shoulder, hand-holding, pats, kisses, snuggling, etc., and other appropriate physical attention from parents can build a relationship bridge that will facilitate good communication. It doesn’t have to be constant, effusive, or cross comfort boundaries, and neither should loving touch stop when kids become teens and pretend that they are too old for such things. For example, one of my teen boys no longer wanted me to hug all over him in public, so we agreed that when I wanted to tell him I loved him, I would poke him gently with my finger. I still do this now that he is an adult and it always makes him smile and say, “I love you too, Mom.” 

Time: Giving kids our undivided, focused attention for even brief periods throughout the day is an easy way to communicate unconditional love to them. Another way is to spend scheduled time alone with each child, such as at bedtime, reading stories and saying prayers, or on a walk, for a lunch “date” or movie, or playing a game, etc. This communicates to a child that she is very important and special. While sometimes children need to learn the valuable lesson of being polite and waiting for an opportune moment to excuse themselves and interrupt parents, no child should feel that they are routinely pushed aside and told, “wait till I am finished with what I am doing.” This tells the child that everything and anything that interests a parent is more important than the child.  

Discipline: Dr. Ross Campbell, Christian psychiatrist and author of How to Really Love Your Child, states, “Disciplines involves training through every type of communication: guidance by example, modeling (children do what you do, not what you say to do), verbal instruction, written instruction, teaching, and providing learning and fun experiences.” Rev. John W. Luton and Drs. Richard and Phyllis Arno, authors of Mastoring Pastoral Counseling Using Temperament, add, “Making a child feel loved and accepted is the first and most important part of good discipline. Unfortunately, many parents make the mistake of equating discipline with punishment. When a child feels loved and accepted, he disciplines more easily and less punishment is required.”

Sometimes when a child is misbehaving, he or she is actually testing you to see if you meant what you said, to see if they can trust you to keep your word. He is asking, can he count on you, do you know what you are talking about or is he on his own?  Other times, they are misbehaving because they are feeling in need of something such as eye contact, physical contact, focused attention, rest, food, or water. Fill these needs first, then discuss what behavior needs to change and how to work together to bring that about.

Ultimately, discipline (teaching, requiring positive behavior, and applying consequences designed to increase a child’s desire to obey) shows a child that you care enough about them to teach them the process of how to become a loving, respectful, considerate, joyous, and responsible Christian adult, instead of leaving it up to their peers, the media, or their schoolteachers, to mold your children into who they want them to be. Parenting is tough stuff and it‘s not for the lazy or faint-hearted. At the end of the day, if you are not influencing your kids, you can bet someone else is…

That's it: 5 ways you can really help your child to feel loved. You will be amazed at how quickly you can turn things around in your relationship with your child with these easy techniques. Remember, “If you try to be your child’s friend when they are young, they will not want to be your friend when they are grown. If you are your child’s parent when they are young, you will become their friend as they get older.”  Dr. Henry R. Mohen in Christian Counseling: Integrating Temperament and Psychology

Adapted from “Loving Our Children,” in Mastering Pastoral Counseling Using Temperament, by Luton, Arno, & Arno, 1997


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