To love in action
To love somebody is easy to say, harder to do, and quite demanding when it comes to act upon it. Proving it. I’m certainly not saying any adult owes it to another adult to prove anything. But with children it’s different. They need us, for survival. So we need to prove they are safe with us: we will listen to them, see them, bring them along, protect and care for them. The less they need to yell to get our attention the more we ease their little minds. This is how attachment basically works.
This is what we need to do in our relation with our children: Show them that they belong, that they are welcome, that we care.
To love is to care, and when caring for a baby, we need to care for everything. Gently, respectfully, fondly. Even the diaper changes and the cries for help at night.
When they know they are safe with us, they can relax. Feel comfortable. Seek contact, wonder who we are and what we are up to. They start experiencing the world around them in a curious, instead of a terrified, way.
-Love is good will.
To want what is best for our children.
With love you perform all the essentials; the tender care, the changes, the feeding, the gentle tucking to bed – are all evidence of your thoughtfulness. Just like the working, the washing and the cleaning are, even though this will pass unnoticed by your child initially. You spice everyday life up with kisses on the cheeks, a warm smile, perhaps some playful games in between. With tender love we comfort both anger and sorrow, and are quick to forgive.
We want to spoil our children a little bit, in the sense that they should feel their importance. That they are a priority to us. That we try to go that extra mile just to see them smile. It doesn’t mean to buy them a lot of stuff, but perhaps baking their favorite cake together, just to celebrate that it’s Friday. Or to make them a breakfast in bed on a Sunday, just because. Or to go on that excursion they wanted.
To show them we care is easy, and important. When they one day come staggering with that breakfast tray themselves, you just know you’ve done good.
With the same concern for the child’s future well being we foster and educate them in the school of life. We teach them to understand and respect others, to wait their turn and follow common rules. To teach the child about life’s social rules is also a matter of good will. We want them to be good friends and citizens.
This means we can’t give the children everything they want, for it is not in their best interests. For one thing, they would quickly grow fat from their icecream-only-diet. We can set loving limits, often with soft or sometimes even regretful voice: “Unfortunately, it’s not good for you.” or “I’m really sorry but I can’t allow it.” Defend your rules and limitations with patience.
– Love is attention.
See the child. Listen to it. Be curious and ask questions about his or her welfare. Your attention shows that you care.
With love you listen attentively to the baby’s non verbal signals or the older child’s silent sigh, or even a tantrum, and try to find out: How do you feel? What do you want? What do you need? What does this sudden whininess or desperation mean? How can we make you feel better my little friend?
Trying to understand is the road to contact, closeness, which brings security and development for both of you.
Playing with the child as an adult is a way to connect. To get to know what’s on your child’s mind, what interests them at the moment, what they need practicing, where they need moral guidance. You can play by being audience, or part of a tea party. You can act patient when the child acts doctor. You can be pupil in school. It doesn’t mean you need to do much, often it’s enough to stay close and go with it. Children loves to dictate the game, so being able to tell you what to do is fun for them. Usually they like to grab the lead role and do most of the acting.
You can inspire new games, and use them to teach something useful for your child. Board games, Memory or role playing a social event to help them cope with that. Or just play for fun: Dressing up like pirates and constructing treasure maps, hiding something shiny in the garden perhaps. Construct a ship using a table, chairs or a sofa, with featuring pillows as cannonballs, sticks as oars and a blankets as sail…
Sometimes you are occupied by something other than the child. It’s OK, it is life that comes between you. Children needs to learn to wait sometimes too. What’s important is that you try and get the extra seconds it takes to listen to the wish (if it’s an emergency – e.g. sudden need of a bathroom or someone being hurt – it’s good not to silence the child without a brief hearing) and then explain: “Hold on honey, dad / mom is busy at the moment. I have to do this first, but I´ll see to you soon!”.
It is good for the child to learn to wait and show consideration. It’s not fun, the child doesn’t learn at once, and it will whine and nag for your attention. It’s normal. Breathe calmly, stick to your decision and do what you need. Involve your child if it is possible, e.g. give it a toy phone, a cloth or something else that reminds it of what you are busy with. This makes the waiting easier and can be quite educational too.
Let your child (especially the toddler who is so keen) take part of your life and your work wherever possible. Give the child a Task and it will be Assisting you, Helping you. Whenever the child gets to feel Important it is a good thing. It builds self-esteem. Certainly you need very simple tasks in the beginning, a lot of support to implement them, and it takes longer to cooperate with the child than it would have done for you to do it yourself. But it is important time. It is time together, it gives the feeling of group membership, identity, and also the child gets training in important life skills.
– Love is closeness.
Closeness means physical contact, but also a mental connection: awareness, consideration, communication. To listen, to care.
Contact provides security. A child who knows it will be well cared for, can relax. When the child relaxes, the door opens for curiosity, contact-seeking and learning. Security is the springboard for everything else. Including growing independance as you are taught how to deal with different kinds of problems, by seeing how it can be done. Your adult care sets the example.
The newborn baby needs lots of body contact. It is absolutely vital for the health and development, your attachment and future bonding abilities:
Breastfeeding is both food and closeness for the baby. It’s the answer to all your baby’s questions (except for “Where are you?”, which can be answered by your talking or holding it close) and the comforter of all their troubles. If you can’t breastfeed, it is important to be as close, skin to skin, even when feeding by bottle.
Wearing the baby in a shawl or a sling can be great addition to having it lying in the wagon, e.g. when vacuuming or preparing food. You get to have your hands free without the baby feeling abandoned. It’s also perfect when you have older siblings to care for, so noone needs to be left out.
Providing infant massage or caressing, kissing and cuddling the baby in general gives a nice basic contact.
The toddlers and older children will also need closeness; to sit in your lap, hold your hand, be carried sometimes, be listened to – and played with. As adult playmates, we play with care and friendly support, teach them rules and consideration.
Communication does get less physical the older the child becomes. Talking and listening takes over more and more of the time you spend together. Your close connection is on a more verbal and mental level. The link may be via phone and internet if required. It just needs the occasional physical confirmation, like a hug, an approving hand on the shoulder or a comforting caressing of the chin.
Hugs are great. Hugs are soothing. They create togetherness. Hugging redeems the violently protesting 3 year old out of its anger paralysis. You can gently hold your child and still stick with the “no” that may have triggered the protests, it works just fine. Hug your children a lot!
Hugs work throughout life! Goodnight hugs, good morning hugs, welcome-home and forgive-me hugs … Do not stop hugging your six-year-old or teenager just because they prance a bit. If it’s all done in a friendly way, and they respond with the familiar half-smiling-but-just-a-bit-embarrassed way they have to do, to feel independent. Show them that you want to, at least, but don’t force hugs onto anyone of course (especially in front of friends if it is sensitive to them – and it will be from time to time).
– Love is unconditional.
Love just is. There is no need for achievement, nor attitude, nor an ever smiling face.
You can be tired, or stressed out, and so can your child. You can argue about issues. You might think differently and want different things. But you love anyway, and that means you say what you have to say, then forgive and move on. You pat and hug when the words run out. It makes it all feel better. Both for parent and child.
You may need to comfort your little darling, screaming in angry despair at your injustice and perceived malice (for example, because you didn’t let it play with the sharp knife).
All children should be stuffed full of love. Secure in their certainty of being loved just as they are. Certainly they will sulk and fight occasionally, but they will become basically loving, caring and friendly. You can see how love works when overflowing and spreading further: the children show the same love that they have been shown, in kindness to their dolls or stuffed animals, to the smaller children in daycare, to their siblings, and to their pets.
Maybe you don’t think about how much love the little darling is showing you, but you should. Think of all your happy reunions, the hugs and kisses – but also the separation anxiety and the constant craving for your attention, that is a cry for even more of your love. Because you are that important to them. It’s not ungratefulness, it’s love. Think of the desire to help. The wish to show you something that has been learned, or done. It all testifies to your love being returned.
For me this is far more important than obedience, which can be trained or forced by intimidation. Authority doesn’t make room for the child’s own creativity or initiatives, his or her own space to think.
You can be a democratic leader, a guide with further knowledge than your child, quite easily. You don’t have to push this.