Once, when I was a boy, I was playing in the most important baseball game of my life. I went up to bat in the last inning with the game tied and the bases loaded… and I struck out. We ended up losing the game. I cried like a baby. I didn’t want to see anyone, especially my dad. I looked up and saw him running toward me. I knew I’d failed him. But, instead of expressing his disappointment, he gave me a big bear hug and literally picked me up. Instead of anger, he had tears in his eyes and said, “Jimmy, I’m so proud of you.” My dad was never very mushy, but when I saw the tears in his eyes, I knew he loved me and that everything would be okay.
Saying “I love you” is one of the most important gifts you can give to your children. I encourage you to say it often and show them that you really mean it! While expressing your emotions verbally is needed, it is important to realize that there are other ways to communicate your love that are just as important.
I often recommend Gary Chapman’s books. In his book, The Five Love Languages, Chapman explains that we all have emotional and love “tanks.” According to Chapman, we help keep others’ tanks full by using five “love languages” that he has identified. He says that most of us have a “primary” love language, although all of them can be important for healthy relationships. If you want to succeed at expressing your love to your kids, you’ll need to identify their primary love language(s) and then do your best to communicate using those languages.
Here is a brief look at the five ways to express your love to your kids:
1. Words of affirmation. In training our children, we can tend to criticize failure. If overdone, this can create devastating consequences in adult life. Determine to praise your child for every right thing done during the next week. A minimum of two compliments a day is a good goal.
2. Quality time. Get down to your child’s level. Discover his or her interests and learn as much about him or her as possible. Be totally present, giving your child undivided attention. Make time each day to give your child (or each of your children) at least a few minutes of quality time. Make it a priority.
3. Receiving gifts. Gifts, if overdone, can become meaningless and teach a child a false set of values. But periodic gifts, thoughtfully chosen and given with affirming statements such as, “I love you, so I got a special gift for you,” can help meet a child’s need for love. The next time you buy or make your child a gift, express your love verbally as you present the gift.
4. Acts of service. Though you constantly perform acts of service for your children, the next time you complete a task especially meaningful to your child make sure that you say it means you love him or her. Pick a task that is not especially appealing to you, but is very important to your child.
5. Physical touch. Hugging, kissing and appropriate touching are very important for a child’s emotional tank. Consider the age, temperament, love language, etc., of each child and determine a unique approach in this area. When your child gets older, you will need to be sensitive, but you should still maintain a regular habit of touching for affirmation.