There are a host of reasons that a child will say that they don't feel love from their parents. Age, experience, temperament and the way a parent expresses love are factors. This comes up quite a bit, mostly with tweens and teens. They will say that they don't feel that their parents love them. So today, in honor of the premier of The Dr. Sheryl Show Podcast episode 001: Loving Bravely with Dr. Alexandra Solomon, I am going to take you into a session about showing love to your children so they feel it the way you intend them to.
"Of course I love you, why would you say that?"
The Smith family looked like many other families in their community. The parents were married, both worked and did their best to manage four children in three different schools. Chaos and siblings fighting was something they were pretty used to. So, one day when their third child said that he didn't feel like his parents loved him the parents were taken off guard. They tried to list to him all of the things that they do for him to show him how much they loved him but it didn't seem effective.
I offered this family and other families the following tips on showing kids love in a variety of ways.
1. Physical Affection - cuddles, hugs and kisses are often easier for parents when their children are little but once they get bigger parents sometimes hold back. This can happen because kids start to push away for greater autonomy or because parents may not have affection when they were younger and aren’t as comfortable. For whatever the reason, touch is a necessary part of development and can provide comfort and love when words fail you. Keep up the hugs and kisses all throughout parenthood, it’s good for attachment and bonding.
2. Gift giving - Kids often associate getting presents with birthdays and holidays. So- getting them something outside of those times, that you wrap or surprise them with can show love in their language. I suggest doing this as a symbol of appreciation in situations such as supporting doing well in school, going above and beyond around the house, or being caught showing good character. Pair it with a hand written note and be specific about why you did this and a special reason you love them.
3. Verbal praise - parents are guilty of not being great at expressing love verbally besides saying, I love you. Challenge yourself to give your child praise that is specific, timely and said from the heart. Your child may not respond but they really appreciate it when they know you are sincere.
4. Doing things for them - this is likely the most common way that parents show love to their kids- at least from their viewpoint. The limitation with this is that many kids expect these things- they don’t always see a clean uniform or a healthy lunch as a sign of love. I suggest if this is a way that you express love that you overtly share that with your family. Say something like, “When I stay up late at night to do your laundry or cook you healthy meals that is one of the ways that I am expressing love to you.” They need to be taught this when they are young.
5. Doing things with them - aka quality time goes a long way with kids. They often feel that their parents have limited time for them and if they have siblings they rarely get time one on one with a parent and even more rare would be time with both parents. I suggest making this a priority as there is nothing like spending time with your children doing something they enjoy- not just running errands or carpooling. You don’t even have to do this often but when you do it will convey love, support and interest in their lives.
6. Showing up at their games, performances - kids want their parents at their events. They look forward to seeing you pull up to a game, not on your phone and watching and cheering them on. Simply put, like the suggestion above, you may not always make every event but making it a priority to show up for them means everything to kids- even if they don’t express it, I know this to be true- they tell me!
7. Show interest in their interests - I witness this to be a challenge for parents during the tween and teen stages. Video games, rap music, and YouTube videos are really exciting to them and typically of no interest to parents. However, if you want to know your kids, their friends and get insight into what their world is like take the time to play, listen and watch. You will learn more there about them in under a half hour than you will talking in the car all week long.
8. Play with them - no matter the age of your child play with them! I hear parents tell me that they are tired or that their children have each other to play with but there is not substitute for mom or dad. No nanny, dog or sibling is quite as special as mom or dad. Find ways to play that you enjoy as well- play board games, go to playground and monkey around, dress up, do puppet shows, get on the floor- all of these activities are the language of a child.
9. Read with them - I think up through middle school you can still be reading with your kids. When they are babies and young children many parents are good about this but once a child hits about third grade parents tend to back off because their child is reading well on their own. However, it is a great way to bond at night- even if that means you lay there and your child reads to you. It once again gives you insight about what they are learning about and gives you topics to talk about.
10. Be present - last but not least, in any of the above ways to show your children love you must be present. We live in a highly distracted world where we work after we get home, return emails at the dinner table and scroll social media as a past time. Your kids notice when they are talking to you and you are half listening. Kids even say that while in the car their parents are staring at their phones at red lights. These are missed opportunities even when the car or dinner table is silent or just seems like it’s filled with small talk. Kids are sometimes summoning up the courage to tell you something big, or sometimes they want to tell you jokes or their wild ideas and if you aren’t receptive they will keep it to themselves and eventually shut down. Work will always be there but your kids childhood won’t always be. Cherish it.