I thought this day was a perfect chance to remind ourselves about the importance of sending messages of unconditional love to our children. In my house we like to say, “Good days, bad days, happy days, sad days, I will always love you.”
Obviously each of us benefits from the security generated when we really know that despite our imperfections we are truly loved. For children who began life in less than optimal care and who waited for a family the message of unconditional love is even more crucial.
Unfortunately, sometimes kids behaviors, especially the behaviors that can stem from trauma, loss, attachment strain, etc. are challenging to manage. It is not uncommon for adoptive parents (and all parents for that matter) to struggle to address negative behaviors while still sending messages of unconditional love. Take the following example for instance.
Mom says, “Bad boy! We don’t throw toys! Go to your room this instant!”
Message received by child: I am bad. Mom wants me to get away from her. I am not lovable.
In order to send messages of unconditional love we have to be very conscious of the language we choose. Let’s tweak the above example just a bit.
Mom says, “Bad choice! Throwing toys is dangerous! I’m going to put this up until you’ve calmed down. Now come and sit by Mom.”
Message received by child: Throwing toys is dangerous. Mom won’t let me throw toys without interceding. Mom helps me when I’m upset. Mom loves me even when I screw up.
Sounds simple but we all know how challenging it can be in the heat of parenting moments to choose the correct words and deliver them with a loving spirit. I personally motivate myself by reminding myself regularly that I’m not doing this just to be nice or just to be positive. I’m doing it because the science tells me that this is the kind of parenting that promotes attachment and nurtures emotional health. One way I remind myself is by continuing to learn and read on the subject. One author that particularly speaks to me on this subject is Gordon Neufeld. He writes,
“Unconditional parental love is the indispensable nutrient for the child’s healthy emotional growth. The first task is to create space in that child’s heart of the certainty that she is precisely the person the parents want and love. She does not have to do anything or be any different to earn that love- in fact, she cannot do anything, since that love cannot be won or lost. It is not conditional. It is just there regardless of which side the child is acting from – ‘good’ or ‘bad.’ The child can be ornery, unpleasant, whiny , uncooperative, and plain rude and the parent still lets her feel loved. Ways have to be found to convey the unacceptability of certain behaviors without making the child herself feel unaccepted. She has to be able to bring her unrest, her least likable characteristics to the parent and still receive the parent’s absolutely satisfying, security –inducing unconditional love.”
Here’s hoping that this Valentine’s Day finds you enjoying the warmth of unconditional love yourself and inspired to keep sending that message to your kiddos.
Happy Valentine’s Day!