Learn how to say 'I love you' in a way your child can understand
Talk to your kids in the language of love
Adam Zargar, the author of the recently released e-book Building Self-Esteem as a Family, tells Rachel Lewis that the primary goal of parents is to show their children unconditional love and support
As parents, we often show love to our children in the way we liked to receive love as a child. If a game of hide-and-seek made your 5-year-old heart soar, you’re probably the first to yell: “Coming, ready or not!” when you want to shower your kids with love.
“Parents normally think that if they say or do exactly what they would have liked as children, their own children will be happy. Remember this: we are all different. Love means different things to everyone,” says Adam Zargar, a youth empowerment coach at 2b Limitless (www.2blimitless.com) in Dubai, and the author of the e-book Building Self-Esteem as a Family, which was released last month.
“The number one goal of a parent is to show their child unconditional love. If you do not find out what their definition of love is, your child may not sense you love them and your relationship will suffer,” warns Zargar. Once a child feels genuinely loved, he is able to do his best in life. “By speaking your child’s own ‘love language’, you can fill his ‘emotional tank’ with love. When your child feels loved, he is much easier to discipline and train than when his emotional tank is running near empty,” explains Dr Gary Chapman, co-author of The Five Love Languages of Children.
Every child has a special way of perceiving love. Chapman believes there are five ways children (indeed, all people) speak and understand emotional love. They are quality time, words of praise, gifts, physical touch and acts of service.
Discover your child’s ‘love language’
First, think about how your child expresses his love to you. Perhaps your son engages you in a wrestling match, or gives you a hug when he is in a good mood. If so, he probably receives love through physical touch.
Secondly, listen to what your child asks for most often. If he frequently says: “Do you like this picture?” or “Did you think I played well in the game today?”, he may need praise to feel appreciated.
Thirdly, listen to what he complains about. If he says: “You’re always busy”, for example, the primary way he receives love may be through quality time with you.
“Most importantly, act on what you discover because it provides great clues for improving your relationship with your child,” advises Zargar.
If you’re in need of some love-inspiration, here are some practical tips for filling up those love tanks.
1 Make quality time
Many of the children Zargar has coached simply want time with their parents. “Parents tell me: ‘But I am busy, I have to work hard to pay for my kids’ education.’ However, the kids mean they want ‘focused’ quality time, a moment of eye contact when parents listen to them without distractions. It’s not the amount of time, it’s the focus of the time,” explains Zargar. Try offering to play a game with your child, go out for ice-cream or a walk, and ask open-ended questions about your child’s day.
2 Praise them
Children in the UAE often complain that their parents are always nagging them about school and homework. “It’s easy to be critical. Instead, spend more time praising your child, who will appreciate it and strive for more,” advises Zargar.
Anne Walker, who lives in Dubai, went to see Zargar for some family coaching sessions when her 7-year-old son, Adam, was angry and refusing to go to school following the birth of his brother.
“Through the sessions, I learnt to prioritise my time and attention,” Anne says. “I used specific praise at the right times, focused on the good Adam was doing, when he was doing it, and six months later he was happy to go to school and is now doing well.”
3 Give them gifts
A present as an act of love can be a simple gesture, something that shows you have been thinking about your child while they’ve been at school, or a symbol to show that you genuinely care. It can be as inexpensive as a pretty hairband or a set of gel pens – the key is that the gift is meaningful.
It’s also a great idea to give a present that the whole family can enjoy together. “Whether it is a game of bowling, a board game or a family go-karting session – anything that means the child and parents can have fun together is valuable,” says Zargar.
4 Show love through touch
A hug, a kiss, a high five or a snuggle before bed: even if you’re not a physical person, your child may be. Playing games or sports with your child, especially older children, can also be a great way to express love to a child who needs physical touch.
“My two daughters couldn’t be more different. The eldest won’t even let me hug her anymore, but her sister, at 15, simply loves to be close. As a child she always used to jump in my lap; today, she likes to sit close when we watch a movie together and purrs like a cat when I give her a back rub,” says Elena Swan* from Abu Dhabi.
5 Carry out little acts of service
When your child asks you for help to mend their bike or find a lost toy, they are crying out for emotional love. Parenting inevitably involves doing a lot for your children, but acts of service are what you do as a gift, not a necessity.
Whether you help out with a school project, muck in with their chores or drive your child to a friend’s house for a play date, actions speak louder than words to your child, who communicates in this “love language”.
• Building Self-Esteem as a Family by Adam Zargar is available from www.seeds2life.com or by calling 04 453 4617
* Name has been changed