Parents, Is Demonstrating Love Enough to Make Your Child FEEL Loved?

Anyone who knows me or follows this blog most likely realizes I’m a fan of books on parenting and child development that span the decades—as long as they contain valuable principles to guide and nurture parents.

Once such book was written by Dorothy Corkille Briggs

Diane Wagenhals, Program Director, Master Trainer, Curricula Writer, Researcher, Mother and Grandmother

Your Child’s Self-Esteem was first published in 1970 and is one I think is still pertinent. In so many ways, Briggs was ahead of her time in what she shares in this book about children and what they need to develop healthy self-esteem.

What grabbed my attention for this blog was a section she called “Common Conceptions of Love.” In it she states, “We often think of parents as demonstrating love when they are affectionate, repeatedly set aside their own interests for their youngsters, watch over them with vigilance, offer material advantages, spend abundant time with them, or treat them as if they were especially superior. Such behavior, however, doesn’t necessarily make children feel loved.”

“While warm affection and close body contact foster physical, mental, and emotional growth, such affection does not in and of itself, guarantee that a child will feel loved. Cold, impersonal treatment, especially during the early years, damages all aspects of development; yet, responsive affection alone doesn’t convince a child that he’s lovable. He needs much more to be certain he is loved. Too many children from affectionate families feel uncherished.”

How do you help your child to feel cherished?

“The parent who continually sets aside his own needs to meet those of his child may appear to be loving. But such behavior can mask intense selfishness, low self-esteem, fear of conflict, and even unconscious rejection. Being a child’s personal satellite eventually builds resentment in parents, and this feeling is bound to be communicated by body language. Living with martyrdom is not living with love.”

“The watchful parent who guides and directs at every turn conveys the idea that the world is full of dangers that the child cannot handle. Overprotection says, ‘You are not competent,’ rather than, ‘You are lovable.’ It undermines self-respect.” [p.62]

Briggs goes on to describe what nurturing love involves.

It is those moments when a child experiences tender caring, when they know they are valued just because they exist.

The active ingredients that communicate love allow the child to build a deep sense of self-respect. This occurs when children experience periodic genuine encounters with parents in environments of psychological safety. Genuine encounters occur when there is focused attention offered to a child. It occurs when a parent fully attunes to what a child is saying or showing through body language.

It is that gentle, safe and loving connection that occurs through warm eye contact, smiles of recognition and appreciation, and the verbal and non-verbal messages that communicate an understanding of a child’s thoughts, feelings and experiences.

The parent communicates, “I’m interested in your thoughts and feelings. I would like to hear about your experiences, what you have been doing and what you think about what you have been doing. I want to hear about what has been fun and also what has been scary or challenging. I want to hear about your dreams. I want to know what is important to you. I want you to know that you don’t always have to please me by trying to say or do what you think I want you to. I want you to be you. I want you to learn who you are, to not try to be a ‘you’ that I have created but the you that you are creating.”

In describing what she calls the climate of love, she shares that acceptance is too mild a word. To accept can mean a person can tolerate something, but children do not blossom because they are accepted.

Briggs says children blossom when they know they are cherished.

Cherishing is about placing the highest possible value on something or someone.

It is about treasuring and being devoted to nurturing and protecting. She says that it is only through the experience of being cherished that a child knows that he or she is loved.

Cherishing is not about lip service or how many material things a child has, or how much money parents spend on children. It is not even about how much time parents spend with children. She notes the following: “Whenever parental worth is dependent upon performance, personal value is subject to cancellation with every misstep.” [p.85]

Parents can cherish children and children may not know they are cherished. Parents have the responsibility of making sure that their children realize just how much parents cherish them. It is much more than saying “I love you.” It is about showing the depths of treasuring a child for that child is, with no strings attached.

 Invitation for Reflection

  1. To what extent do you remember feeling cherished as a child? What promoted those feelings and beliefs?
  2. If you didn’t experience the feelings of being cherished, you might struggle to communicate how much you cherish your children. What are some things you can do to help you cherish yourself as well as communicate how much you cherish your children?

Diane Wagenhals, Director of Lakeside Global Institute, Lakeside

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