Are Your Kids Feelin’ the Love?

We all know that children thrive when they feel loved unconditionally. When their “love tanks” are full, children behave better and are much easier to discipline.


My guess is that if you’re reading this, you love your children. You may tell them you love them repeatedly. You may demonstrate your love in all kinds of ways. But at the end of the day, do your children FEEL loved by you?


We cannot assume that our children feel loved just because we feel it.


For 40+ years, every time my mother sees me, her whole face lights up. Every time I call her, I hear excitement in her voice when she answers the phone. She gives me her full attention when we talk. She remembers the little details of our conversations.


She doesn’t judge or criticize me. She doesn’t try to solve my problems for me. She validates my feelings. She treats me with respect. She’s considerate. She gives lots of hugs when we’re together. She offers to help when I’m overwhelmed. She makes time with me a priority.


Like any mother and daughter, we’ve had our share of problems. We have our “issues.” But even when I’ve been the less-than-perfect daughter – when I’ve been self-centered, unkind, and even downright nasty – I still feel loved by her. That’s pretty amazing if you ask me.


She may not have felt particularly loving towards me in those moments. She may not have approved of my behavior or permitted it to continue. But somehow she was able to communicate that she loved me anyway. That’s unconditional love.


Me and Mom. Dade County Youth Fair, 1978

Me and Mom. Dade County Youth Fair, 1978


Unconditional love communicates, “I love you NO MATTER WHAT.” It says, “I love you regardless of how you look or act. I love you even when I disagree with your choices. I love you for who you are, not what you do. I love you even and especially when you are least lovable. You are enough.”


But loving unconditionally doesn’t come naturally to everyone, especially those who haven’t had good role models. In fact, it can be really hard…particularly when your toddler throws a tantrum over something seemingly trivial in public or your teenager disrespects you…again. The good news is that loving unconditionally can be learned and you can give love even when you don’t feel loving. That’s because love is an action as well as a feeling. And, sometimes we need to do loving things in order to feel the love.


How to Love unconditionally

The first step to loving your child unconditionally is to love yourself unconditionally. I know it sounds trite, but if your own love tank isn’t full, you can’t give love to anyone else.


I’ll have to devote many more posts on self-love and self-care, but for now…Forgive yourself for past mistakes. Accept yourself – flaws and all. You are perfectly imperfect. Tell yourself that YOU ARE ENOUGH, no matter what you were led to believe about yourself when you were a child. Take time to do things that make you feel your best, so that you can be your best for your kids.


Second, do things EVERY DAY to fill your child’s love tank. There is a great book called The 5 Love Languages of Children that helps parents identify specific things to make each child feel loved. Every child is unique, and therefore the same act of love will influence different children in different ways.


For example, Marissa is the type of child who wants my attention at ALL times. She wants me to watch her build with Legos. She wants me to sit with her while she does her homework. She didn’t want me to take my eyes off her for a split second when she was in gymnastics class. She actually turned down taking piano lessons when I told her that I wasn’t going to watch her practice. So, when she starts to act clingy or needy, I know I need to take a break from whatever I’m doing and spend some time really focused on her. This fills up her love tank and then she is more amenable to playing by herself while I go back to doing other things.


Dalia, on the other hand, can play independently for hours. Her love tank is usually filled with hugs, kisses, and lots of snuggling.


Finally, when you become emotionally reactive (I’ve talked about that here and here), CALM yourself down. Yelling, screaming, lecturing, and criticizing do not make anyone feel loved. “I’m so hard on you because I love you” is a contradiction and quite frankly, nonsense. You can discipline your children in a way that’s respectful of them and simultaneously communicates that a) their behavior is not okay, and b) you still love them.


When you start loving your children simply for who they are, rather than what they do, your children will feel more secure and self-confident.


They’ll feel more loving towards you and will be more cooperative as a result. There will still be ups and downs and times when showing your love will prove to be difficult, but your relationship with your children is worth it. How do I know? Because most of the time, the first person with whom I want to share life’s joys and challenges is…


…my Mom!


In the comments below, tell me one thing you can start doing that would show unconditional love for your child.


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