Love can be a confusing concept, especially since the principle of “do unto others as you would have them do unto you” doesn’t always work. One child can’t get enough of cuddling; another jumps whenever touched. One child is delighted when Mom brings home gifts from a business trip; another calls it a cheap-bribe substitute for not being taken on the trip. There are five generally recognized “love languages”:
Saying “I love you” or other warm words directly
Giving material gifts
Spending quality time together
Making close physical contact
… and children find it hard to believe they’re loved unless they get regular doses of whichever “languages” they understand best, however much you speak your own preferred language to them.
So the first rule of effectively showing love is: find out, directly from the kids, what they’d like! If things feel cold between you and your children, watch carefully how they react when you offer them attention in specific ways: notice when their faces light up and when a “thank you” is obviously forced. Then, rather than being offended by the latter “after all the trouble I went to,” ask them what they would have preferred and what they would like in the future. Feeling listened to and respected is a concept understood in any love language.
Other things you can do to assure your kids they are loved:
Don’t confuse love with doing things “for their own good.” While the degree of “tough love” needed in tough situations also varies between individuals, no one feels loved when their feelings and opinions are brushed off. Where it’s necessary to say a firm “No” or insist on an unwanted chore, you can still give the kids’ side a fair hearing to assure them they’re valued.
Allow your children plenty of freedom, but know where to draw firm boundaries. Notwithstanding the classic whine of, “If you really loved me you’d always let me do anything I wanted,” kids actually in that situation typically feel ignored, insecure, and cut loose. Overly lenient parents are often afraid of their kids at heart: “She’ll make a scene, he’ll lose his self-confidence, they won’t love me ” And fear, being basically selfish, is the opposite of love.
Accept their expressions of love gratefully—even when you’re greeted with “Surprise, I made lunch!” from the door of a kitchen in shambles. You can always make a shared project of cleaning up after lunch, and you’ll get much further that way than by flying into a “How dare you” rage and adding a hurt and bewildered preschooler to the casualties.
Teach your kids the concept of love languages, and brainstorm ideas for sharing love with another household member or a friend. When you love others together, the warm feelings grow between you even as they spread into the larger world!