Words Your Child Needs From You, Part I: “I love you”

Words Your Child Needs From You = I Love You“Death and life are in the power of the tongue…”

That’s a lot of power—power you have over your child’s life. Frightening, isn’t it? We fear seeing our children wither and shrivel into sad, hard little kernels. So how can we speak the words that cause them to thrive and grow up with security, self-esteem, and joy? Follow me through this new series of posts, and you’ll discover some crucial words you can use to speak life into your child’s deepest heart.

Life-giving message #1: “I love you.”

Why does hearing “I love you” change your child’s world?  Imagine seeing the world the way your child does. Everything but a bug is bigger than you. Everything’s faster than you. Everything keeps changing for reasons you can’t understand. Then in walks Mommy with a hug and an “I love you,” and suddenly you are not alone.
Someone important cares about you. You are loved. Ah. . . Love gives a little bit of peace. The world feels safer.

Yes, all of that is in the power of your “I love you.” So when you say it:

  •  Say it clearly: like a news flash your child has never heard before.
  •  Say it repeatedly: make it a habit, and make it memorable. Make up goofy “I love you” songs your child can’t help but remember. Read cute rhyming books together, like I’ll Love You Forever (available at our local library; Plum Creek Library or at Amazon ) or Snuggle Puppy (from inter- library loan  or Amazon. ) Make it sweet or make it silly, but make it stick.
  • Say it consistently: no matter how old your child is, no matter how your child’s acting, no matter how you’re feeling. Love is a decision you make to keep on caring about your child. It is not a reward your child earns. (Nor is it a message your child outgrows.)
  • Say it actively: in how you treat your child all day long. Remember how loudly actions speak . . .

Now, your child may hear ‘I love you,’ but does he believe it? Here’s an easy way to check:
Tell your child, “I love you” and watch what his eyes do.
If he believes you, his eyes will stay locked on yours. If he’s not so sure, he’ll look away.

Ouch. If your child doesn’t believe you mean what you say, do some thinking. What chains might be tying up your “I love you” message?

  •  Unchain love from conditions. Have you been reserving your love only for the times your child is behaving well? If so, your child may be hearing “love = approval.” Fear creeps in when mom’s love can be lost by one false move. So send a new message: “I love you because you’re my child. That will never change.”
  •  Unchain love from all the “ifs.” Have you been saying, “I’ll love you if. . .” or “If you love me, you will . . .”? Guess what? That’s not love. That’s coercion. So ditch the “ifs”—even in your mind. Give love as a gift, without expecting anything in return. Just say, “I love you.” Period.
  • Unchain your child from your needs. Do you still long for the love you missed as a child? That’s a heavy chain. But you don’t have to wrap it around your child. Choose a new path for your family. At Choices we’ve got some great ideas to help you love your child in a whole new way. Ask us about our Shame-Free Parenting lessons; they’re part of our Earn While You Learn  program. They can help you leave those chains behind.

Today, begin to say “I love you” so your child believes you.

Looking for a good book on this topic? Try Words Kids Need to Hear by David Staal, Zondervan.