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Cary Quashen: Love your children 365 days a year

Children need a parent’s love not just on Valentine’s Day, but all year

Posted: February 12, 2009 11:09 p.m.
Updated: February 13, 2009 4:55 a.m.

Cary Quashen

 
Americans are infatuated with Valentine's Day. Telling each other how much we love them has been on display in nearly every store window and newspaper ad for weeks. According to the National Retail Federation Americans spent a record $18 billion on Valentine's Day in 2008. More than 200 million valentines were exchanged, not including those used in the traditional classroom exchanges.

Why do we always need to make it bigger and better? Somehow the innocent message of "be mine" and "you are loved" has morphed into "be mine" - as long as you spend more than $122.98, (last year's average) whether you're telling your sweetheart or your child.

When I was a kid, it was customary to talk about Valentine's Day weeks before Feb. 14. In school we talked about love and respect for each other and ways we could show appreciation for each other, be it to mom, dad, brother, sister or friends. We would talk about unconditional love and love without expectations. Back then, we were asked to find a way to show our love, be it in an art project, an essay, or a love letter.

I remember the fourth grade art project well. It cost 50 cents to make in those days - a homemade project that began with a discarded oatmeal box, brown wrapping paper, string, my favorite candy hearts, colored markers and glue. When finished, it would store the coveted love notes from Valentine's Day. My prized Valentines were from my parents. The ones that said they "loved me no matter what."

Now I keep a box, an updated version, one that holds the Valentines my own kids have given to me. Their way of saying "I love you."

Soon it's over for another year. What about the other 364 days of the year, how do we best show love and support for our loved ones, especially our children?

How quickly we return to the harsh words, bickering and conditional love with expectations.

As a counselor for high-risk teens, I have spent the last 20-plus years working with families in crisis. And when families are in crisis, they are not necessarily thinking about ways to show love and respect to each other.

For many, the words "I love you" don't even come out of their mouths. They are usually caught up in trying to either solve the crisis, deny the crisis is happening, or pointing fingers at each other and placing blame and saying "it's your fault."

Parents would be dismayed to discover that most children doubt that they are genuinely and unconditionally loved. There is more to it than taking children to soccer and buying them the things they want - but even good parents have little room in their busy schedules for real quality time with their children.

Time is crucial - especially once they become teens and it seems that you can't relate to your own children anymore.

So as we approach Valentine's Day I like to think about ways to love our children. The following tips on loving your children, can be put in place on a daily basis starting today, right now, when they walk in the door after school or when you come home from work tonight.

Ways to show your children you love them

Say the word "love" a lot.

Be careful not to criticize; simply tell them a better way.

If you withdraw your attention, avoid with drawing your love.

Teach the principles of "why," not just "what" to do or not to do.

Discipline with love, especially if you are angry. If you "punish" or "take away," follow up with love.

Remember that children often reflect what they have or have not been taught.

Teach them to trust the truth by experiencing you as a role model of the truth and a model of loving them for telling the truth.

Be patient, not just tolerant.

Ask what they need from you - and do whatever you can to meet those needs.

When you are stressed and unavailable, help them know that your condition is about your life, not them, and reaffirm your love.

Remember that children often need love the most when they "deserve" it the least.

Listen to them, a lot. Avoid interrupting. Give them your undivided attention.

Help them learn the feeling of regret, not just to say they are sorry.

Apologize when you make a mistake or do something you regret.

Teach them about ethics and values and principles they can apply in choices and decision-making.

Never make fun of them, shame them or blame them. It's not their "fault." It's an indication of what they need, or what they need to learn, or what they need to unlearn.

Tell them how much you like being with them, if you mean it. If you don't, examine what about the relationship dynamics - at that moment or in general - affects your not feeling that way. Then find a way to change that from within yourself.

Expect and support their best; don't expect or require perfection. Life is about progress not perfection.

Praise their efforts; avoid judging them.

Avoid comparing them to anyone else; instead, help them develop their unique self and way of being.
Know that they will respect what you say if they respect who you are.

Encourage them to share, and teach them to share, but don't make them share. If they feel enough love in their life they will be able to share; if they cannot share, it means they need to feel more love.

Hug and touch them often when they are young. When they are older, instead of saying, "Give me a hug," say, "I would like a hug, would you?" Let hugging be their choice.

Help them learn the feeling of gratitude, not just to say thank you.

Give them space when they need it.

Praise more, criticize less.

Know that a child experiencing love will express love. A child who does not act loving needs to experience more love and feel more loved. Until then, behavior changes you attempt may not be sustainable.

Help them learn how and why to save money. Be an effective role model in this regard.

Avoid emphasizing how much something costs.

Help them discover what has meaning and purpose and feels good to them.

Keep the promises you make. If you do not keep your word, acknowledge that. Help them understand the circumstances or choices that precipitated the change in your plans. They will notice if keeping your word becomes a pattern.

Answer their questions.

If you do not like their friends, teach them the qualities to look for in friends.

Go to their games and events; get to know their teachers and coaches.

Be consistent.

Let them tell you how they feel. Help them learn what their feelings are and how to express them.

Give them lots of compliments - and mean it. If you do not/cannot compliment them, examine why.

Suggest better behaviors when they act out. Teach first. Reward often. Be understanding. Punish last.
When they withdraw, offer love instead of demands or threats.

Nurture them with good food, prepare their favorite meals, and help them make wise nutritional choices.
Teach them to be responsible according to their own developmental age - avoid using them to do tasks that are your responsibility.

When you notice behavioral changes, be especially available so they can talk about what is going on.
Be understanding when they have a difficult day.

Teach them to be on time and to keep their word and their commitments - and model that for them.

Love them no matter what - and especially affirm your love when you are feeling angry. If you are feeling love for them at the time you express anger, your anger is safe. Otherwise, they experience anger as having the power to displace love.

Here's the challenge. I have suggested 44 ways to love your kids. There are 365 days in each year. I want to challenge every one of you to come up the 321 more ways to love your kids and implement at least one of these suggestions on a daily basis.

Cary Quashen is a certified addiction specialist and the founder and president of the ACTION Parent & Teen Support Program that meets 7 p.m. at Saugus High every Tuesday evening in the Q Buildings.
 Quashen may be reached at (661) 713-3006. The ACTION Hotline number is 1-800-FOR TEENs.

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