“Deep within us—no matter who we are—there lives a feeling of wanting to be lovable…And the greatest thing we can do is to let people know that they are loved and capable of loving.” — From The World According To Mr. Rogers
If Mr. Rogers was right, how can parents help their children and teens feel genuinely loved and supported? Here are 4 ways parents can meaningfully express love to their kids and teens:
- Show love by showing them that you like them. Kids need to know that they are loved – and liked. Parents can show this love—and like—for their kids in simple, everyday ways:
- Laugh at their jokes. Silliness is vulnerable. When they are not laughing at someone else’s expense, encourage your kids’ attempts at humor, whether irony, puns, impressions, or jokes. Laugh with them—and dare to join in!
- Recognize their efforts. Even if they lack aptitude, celebrate their focus, perseverance, and courage to try and fail.
- Encourage their interests. Help them find creative ways to develop themselves. If you have a skill they’re interested in, let them come alongside you and learn. YouTube and countless free and low-cost learning communities exist to cultivate new skills. Wherever you can, support their desire to take a risk and learn something new.
- Tell them when you missed them. Let your face and body language say “Welcome home!” when they walk in the door. To make someone feel anticipated, longed for, and missed is one of the deepest ways people express love.
- Find new ways to say you love them. Kids and teenagers sometimes need convincing that they are lovable or likable. Parents can express love meaningfully by taking time to really observe what makes their child unique, and tell their child what they love about who they are:
- “I have always loved your laugh. You laugh with your whole body. It is a force of nature! I can’t resist – you always get me laughing, too.”
- “You are always the first person to rush to someone who is hurt. I love how caring you are.”
- “You have gotten so good at solving puzzles. Putting a puzzle together with you is one of my favorite things.”
- “I know you dread math, but I am so impressed with how hard you work to understand it. You just do not give up. You inspire me!”
- Express physical affection – the way THEY need it. Children’s needs and tolerance for physical affection evolve over time. Younger children may actively request more holding, cuddling, hugging, and kissing. As requests begin to wane, parents can still offer affection without interpreting a “no thank you” as rejection. Parents can also try increasingly less invasive ways to express physical affection to find their child’s current comfort levels: if they no longer want a kiss on the cheek, do they still receive hugs? If they refuse hugs, will they allow an arm around their neck? A head on their shoulder? Just sitting, standing, or walking near them? Holding their hand? Sitting in their room late at night and letting them just talk about their day? If physical affection is currently overstimulating for their child, parents can still show their care by remaining physically near, affirming their love verbally, and honoring a physical parameter that helps their child feel safe.
- Listen with your whole self: When a child or teen needs to talk, they need their parents to put down their phone, turn off the TV, close the laptop, and really listen. They may even benefit from unpacking their thoughts while walking or doing some physical activity together. Parents give their children a powerful gift when they give their full attention, listen without interrupting, ask clarifying questions without judgment, sum up what they think they heard, and get their child’s confirmation of accuracy, before responding. This act of love demonstrates and communicates that what their child thinks and feels matters, and the time and energy necessary to express themselves is a worthwhile investment.
Children and teens thrive when they feel loved, liked, and accepted by their parents—the people who have known them the longest and have often seen them at their worst. This gritty, authentic love can give children the confidence they need to risk extending love and compassion to others, not only while they are young, but for the rest of their lives – as citizens, employees, leaders, and parents themselves. What greater gift can a parent give their child?
About the Author
MaryJo Burchard (Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership) is co-founder and principal of Concord Solutions, a Virginia-based consultancy firm focused on helping leaders and organizations thrive while facing major disruption. Concord Solutions offers consulting, coaching, training, research, and keynote speaking surrounding trauma-informed leadership and assessing and building change readiness, trust, and belonging.