5 Day Love your Child Challenge!
We are excited to spend 5 days focusing on loving our children and working on our relationship with our kids. As their parent, you are the most important influence on them, more so than teachers, peers, the media, or anything else. Ensuring you have a strong relationship with your child and that you are engaged and involved is crucial to their development.
This challenge will focus on loving your children the way they need to be loved and will help you discover new ways to connect. Finding a way to say, “I love you” in a way that your child understands and speaks to them is important in making sure they feel loved by the most important people in their lives.
Day 1: Focus on Unconditional Love.
The love we have for our children is amazing. The love we show them needs to be unconditional and based on our love for them based on who they are, just as they are. Conditional love is based on performance or achievement. We do not have to love every behavior or decision our children will make. But we do need to love them, and show our love, even when we are sad, frustrated, angry, or unhappy.
Our use of the words, “I love you” or an action of love should not come with strings attached. Yes, we often use rewards as a way to encourage kids to clean their room, or we say we are proud of their hard work. But the love we show for our kids should not be conditional to their abilities or actions. When children feel truly loved, they are better able to succeed and respond to consequences and learning.
Challenge: Pay attention to how you show love to your children. Do you usually give praise only when they do something well? While providing encouragement when they work hard is important, we don’t want to only show this affirmation when they do something well. When was the last time you told your child you love them for who they are and listed their positive characteristics? Let them know today that you love them for just being them.
Day 2- Speak to Their Heart
Each person will feel loved in a different way. We can say, “I love you” all we want, but if we do not show love in a way they understand, the person may never truly feel loved. Additionally, what speaks to one person may not speak as strongly to another. Some people respond more to loving touch, others to kind words of encouragement and love, others to doing things together, others to being helped. Furthermore, and especially for children, how we best receive love can change over time.
Children are no different. Some children will feel more loved when their parents hug them, while others may feel more loved when their parents make time to do activities together. As parents, we need to find a way to say, “I love you” that speaks to their heart.
In order to fill a child’s love tank, we need to focus on all areas we can love them. Always offer love in the form of kind words, hugs, snuggles, quality time, helping, or gifts. But we need to have a special focus on what directly speaks to their hearts.
Challenge: Pay close attention to each of your children and see or ask what makes them feel loved. It may take time for you to recognize exactly what speaks to their heart. Take several days to observe what makes your child feel loved. Ask over the course of a few days what you do that makes them feel the most loved. Record their response and see what speaks directly to their heart. For example, we have noticed our son responds more to physical touch (scratching his back or playing rough and tumble with Dad), while our daughter craves quality time with us. Speak and show love in all areas you can as often as you can, but focus on what will speak to your specific child. (You can learn more on specific love languages at 5lovelanguages.com).
Day 3- Focus on the Little Things
Perhaps one of the easiest ways to show love to our children is hugging them, scratching their backs, holding hands, or making eye contact. Many humans crave physical loving touches. A 30-second hug, or taking the time to stop what you are doing to make eye contact, or just a sweet pat on the shoulder can show your child you love them. How we interact with our children when they are young helps them develop social skills and sets up their relationships as adults.
There are many times throughout our time with our children that we can show little acts of love. We can leave them little notes, make them feel special, take the time to sit and talk, or build them up. Once we know what speaks directly to our child’s heart, we can make a point to do that more often. But we can also focus on all the little things that show a child we love them.
Challenge: Jump at all the same chances you have to show love. Put a note in your child’s lunch. Put the picture they made up on the fridge and tell them how much you appreciate their hard work. Tell them you are proud they worked hard at school or practice. Tell them you love being with them. Buy or find them a small gift of love with no strings attached. Give them hugs, kisses, pat their shoulder, scratch their back, tickle them, and give them undivided attention and eye contact. Keep a list of special ways to show them love, especially those that speak to their heart.
Day 4- Focus on Communication
When our children are upset, who do we want them to talk to? We will want them to talk to us! Unfortunately, some kids do not feel their parents are a safe place to go when they are upset, need to confide in someone, are in need of help, or are in danger. How we respond to our children can dictate whether they find us a safe place, and we want to be that safe place for them.
Research has shown that when a child does not have someone to connect to or their emotional needs are not being met, they will disconnect. When a child is in need their instinct is to reach out. But when a parent is not there to respond, the child will disconnect as a means of coping.
There are times when we want to engage conversations with our kids and try to get them to open up. But there are other times when we want to just listen. As parents we often want to “fix” everything. But there are times our kids come to us just to have us listen, not to fix or respond. Learning this and putting this into practice is hard. Often while listening, we are simply just waiting to respond. Sometimes we just need to listen to listen.
Our children need time to sit with us in conversation. This is the best time to learn about them, teach them, build their self-worth, build a friendship, and show we care. They will never outgrow the need to have quality conversations with us.
Challenge: Find time to sit in conversation with your child. Show them you are engaged and listening. Ask questions about their day and feelings. Do you best to respond to sad choices and frustration with empathy instead of anger? Are you spending most of your talking time with them correcting their behaviors, or simply conversating?
You may also like: Communication Tips for Trust and Security
Day 5- Be Mindful of Punishment
As we discussed on Day 2, every person will feel love differently. Some respond more to kind words, others to quality time, others to loving touch. The Challenge for that day was to observe your child to see what speaks to their heart the most. Once you have recognized that, now it is time to be careful how you use it.
We need to be mindful of how we discipline our children. There is a difference between discipline and punishment. When we punish kids, we make them suffer for their sad choices. When we discipline kids, we guide them to make better choices. When we punish our kids, we are having them fear us, not fearing the consequences of sad choices.
For discipline to be effective, a child must feel loved. For us to guide them and teach them, they need to feel unconditionally loved by us. Our guidance will be easier to take when their love tanks are full. It may feel wrong to nurture and love a child who is misbehaving, but chances are, this is just what need. So often in our parenting classes we have parents seeking the next best punishment because what they are doing just isn’t working. They see so much improvement when they turn the focus from punishment to a focus on keeping their child’s love tank full with discipline and guidance.
Using what makes our child feel loved as a means to punish can greatly hurt and impact them. For example, spanking a child who craves loving, physical touch would be more detrimental than spanking already is. Belittling a child who craves kind, loving, and encouraging words would be even more hurtful than belittling already is. Isolating a child who craves quality time with you, will cause more harm than isolating already does.
We can easily become frustrated with our child’s choices. But remember, your love for them comes with no conditions, and we need to continue to show love even through our frustration. Responding with empathy is key. Many misbehaviors are the result of a child just seeking attention. To them, even negative attention is attention. When their love tanks are nearing empty, we see more misbehaviors.
Challenge: Avoid falling into the “punishment trap” where you try to find bigger and better punishments to correct behaviors. Instead, focus on the logical consequences of their sad choices and continuing to fill their love tank. Focus on discipline and guiding them, instead of punishing. Pay attention to what you use as consequences or punishment. Be careful that you don’t use what speaks to their heart as a method of punishment. And, more than anything else, continue to fill their love tank.
By: Emily Scott, PhD
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