A key to your child’s flourishing is her secure attachment to you; knowing that she is unconditionally loved will lift her up to face all that life throws at her.
Why is it important for kids to hear these words?
Love from parents, in all of its manifestations, is how children form ‘secure attachments’ in infancy and childhood. Many psychologists share my opinion that the single-most important factor in raising well-adjusted kids is secure attachment to parents. This allows children to feel they have an unconditional and unwavering “love stream” at home, and this manifests for into adulthood as positive relationships and high self esteem. So expressing your love for your young ones verbally is the simplest and most no-frills way to keep attachment strong.
Is it enough to just show you love them or do you need to say the words?
Many say that “actions speak louder than words,” and that’s true when only words are being spoken without the weight of action to follow. As in adult-to-adult interactions. Not so when it comes to parents and the words “I love you.” As parents, almost every natural tendency we have toward our children is grounded in love, but they don’t always see it that way. You are no doubt familiar with that notion. So back up all of those actions that you know come from a place of love by reminding your children verbally of the same. “I love you” followed by an insistence on them leaving that phone behind to sit down to dinner, or forbidding your 14-year-old girl from going to an unchaperoned party on Saturday night, will go a longer way than taking the action for love without the back-up phrase to underscore you don’t exist to torment them, rather to protect them from harm and guide them to be the best people they can be.
What are some other ways of telling them?
Express “I love you” in written form, like in a surprise note in their lunchbox, or bake cupcakes and write “I love you” on them. Spell “I love you ___ (“Katie”) in magnets on the fridge.”
What are some other ways of showing them?
Ask them for a “help me help you.” Be curious about your kids and how they process psychologically. Ask them who loves them in their lives, and how they show it. Then point out scenarios where you can see love for them in various actions (including your own), and ask them if this translates. From this conversation, you’ll have much more awareness of specific “love triggers” for them, and can engage in more of that, and they will have more awareness of things you, and others, are doing to show love and they will start to feel it more too.
How do you make it more than words?
All of the above suggestions are great ways. Of course remember that your love for your child is paramount, so in moments of irritation, frustration or anger, keep this top of mind. Be mindful that you don’t overshadow actions borne from love with anger and bad temperament. Patience and compassion are two fundamental ways to practice being a better parent, and a great way to go for “more than words.”
Any other advice for telling kids/showing them they are loved?
The best thing you can do to demonstrate to your kids that they are loved is by being totally present for them. That’s all they really need from you-to know that you love them unconditionally and are always present for them, in love, protection and service.