By Dr. Gwen Smith
Everyone believes he or she knows how to show love to the people in their lives, and perhaps they are right. There are physical manifestations: we tell people we love them, we spend time with them, we give hugs and kisses, we buy them things they like, we do things for them, and the list goes on. While the physical evidence are important and can leave lasting effects, more important are the feelings of well-being, acceptance and value we communicate to our children. These in turn help shape their self-worth and eventually the limits they place on themselves to succeed.
Psychological and emotional impacts can last through generations. Paying close attention to these will influence your child for good. There are three important things to pay attention to which will communicate love from you to your child. I’ll deal with this in details in my upcoming books and seminar, however here is a summary:
Your child must feel capable—this involves a feeling of competence. Providing feedback in a positive manner on things your child does will help them to feel as though they are capable. As often as possible, communicate the value your child brings to your life. Instead of saying: “You never do anything right” for example, you can say “Great! Soon you’ll be a master at this! You are improving more and more each time you do this!” Look for ways to give authentic, liberal compliments to your child daily.
Your child must feel a sense of acceptance—this is a sense of belonging as a part of your home community. Work vigorously to include ALL your children in activities no matter what their physical or mental capacities. This is especially true for children with disabilities. Model for your other children how to treat a child with disability or even a younger child. Give them respect and cause them to feel an important part of the family. Accept your child with all his or her idiosyncrasies and cause them to feel connected.
Your child must feel they are contributing—a sense of usefulness is important here. Sometimes as parents we inadvertently communicate that our child is not good enough, just by simply correcting their mistakes without validating something great about their attempts at what they were doing. I have had this experience in the past, in wanting to correct my children, to teach them correct ways, and it has had the opposite effect of communicating something entirely different than what I thought I was communicating.
To minimize how your child will interpret your efforts, it’s important to look for something to validate about what you are about to correct in your child’s behavior or actions Though it may not be your intention, your child can begin to create stories about their abilities if they are always being corrected without being validated. This is a nugget to pay attention to, since as parents we are in the business of loving our children and of wanting to ensure that they are successful. Remember validate their contributions or their attempted contributions, no matter if you believe it is less than perfect.
Let your child know that your home would never be the same without them, and that you are thrilled that they are a part. Listen to their ideas and incorporate them in decision making. Let them feel that they can make a difference in how things are going in the home. Appreciate the contributions they make, no matter how imperfect, and acknowledge the value of their input.
When these principles are consistently applied and combined with the physical manifestations of love, it creates a powerful bond between parent and child which is not easily broken.
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