I wrote the other day about how people really just want reassurance. I have been thinking about that recently, and I have something to share that I have learned through being a head of a school.
I want to preface this by saying that I really don’t like to give unsolicited parenting advice, because parenting is hard, and I am not a parent, so you can stop reading here if you hate it when your friends who are not parents think they have all the answers.
So here goes.
After more than a decade of observing families, the best advice that I can give to parents is to make sure that your children know FOR SURE that you love them.
You probably do lots of things for your children like cooking for them, buying them toys, and playing with them, so you think it must be obvious to them that they are loved, but it’s better not to assume that they understand this point. You need to show with your actions that you love them, but you also need to tell them directly that you love them. They need to feel reassured that, no matter what, you will always love them.
You might be thinking that your family is just not that touchy-feely, and you don’t have the habit of saying, “I love you” to your children. That’s okay. You don’t have to use those words if you don’t want to. In that case, maybe you could find some other words that you can say that specifically get the message across to your child that you love them, that they are loved, and that they will always be loved.
This is not the same as complimenting your child. Compliments can be said by anyone, and they can also be empty. And I don’t think, “I’m proud of you,” works either because there are hidden messages of evaluation and conditionality in those words. (“I’m proud of you because you did this thing well, but you may not do it well in the future and then I won’t be as proud of you.”) Conditional love doesn’t bring about the level of reassurance that a child needs to feel secure.
There is so much anxiety in the world right now, and the pandemic has fed it and made it grow, especially in children. In my opinion, based on what I have observed over many years, one of the strongest tools that a child, or anyone, can wield against anxiety is the certainty that their parents love them.
This could also be phrased as, “Make sure the people you love know for sure that you love them, and even make sure the people you like know for sure that you like them.” This is something I need to reflect on more because I think I am not good at making sure that my family and friends know how I feel about them. I need to get better at getting both my actions and my words to show my love.
I feel very nervous publishing today’s text because it’s not about productivity, perfectionism, or addiction, but it is what came to me when I sat down to write today. I’m going to trust the process and hit publish, but I think I will close my eyes when I do it.