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How To Show Your Child You Love Them | Expressing Love To Kids

ages 0 - 6 months ages 11 years - 18 years ages 5 years - 11 years ages 6 months - 5 years communication discipline parenting philosophy relationships siblings Aug 17, 2023


How does your child know that you love them?  One day when they’re older, your child will reflect back on their childhood and remember all the times you told them you loved them.  They’ll remember when you showed them you loved them by lending a helping hand or offering comfort and support.  They’ll remember all the times you cooked for them and shuttled them around to friends’ houses and activities.  They’ll remember the time you gave them something just because you thought they’d really like it.  And they’ll remember all the times you treated them with unconditional positive regard.

What is unconditional positive regard?  It’s a concept popularized by humanistic psychologist Carl Rogers in the 1950s that involves accepting and valuing individuals without judgment or conditions.  Unconditional positive regard means fostering a nonjudgmental environment focusing on acceptance, respect, and support.  It’s a key element in my parenting philosophy (see Love, Balance & Problem Solving) and falls under the Communication category of my 5 C’s parenting framework (see The 5 C’s to Amazing Parenting).

It’s easy to support your child when they’re having good behavior.  But what about when their behavior is less than ideal - when they’ve gotten angry and hit their sibling; when they’ve tried to carry too much to the table and spilled their cereal all over the floor and broken the bowl; when they’ve gotten frustrated and torn up their homework.  It’s normal to find these types of behaviors upsetting as a parent.  It’s normal that your first reaction may be to think, “How could you?” or “I told you not to do that” or “You little…”

What’s very important is that you don’t say those things to your child.  They deserve the same love and support from you during tough times that you show them during happy times.  Nobody is perfect.  Children are growing and learning how to handle their emotions and integrating so much new information every day; they are bound to make mistakes from time to time.  You want your child to know that they can always count on you to love and support them no matter what mistakes they make along the way.

Think about what a child who has unconditional positive regard from their primary caregiver would look like.  They would feel more comfortable in their own skin and more accepted by the world.  They would feel more confident and willing to try new things.  They would be more open to discussing challenges they encounter or questionable events they experience with their parent.  Their parent-child relationship would be strong.  Now envision what a child without unconditional positive regard from their primary caregiver would look like.  That’s a sad thought.  We brought these kids into the world, and we owe it to them to be their biggest cheerleaders. 

Unconditional positive regard does not mean excessively praising your child.  We want our kids to develop a positive yet realistic self-impression and a sense of competence but not hubris.  Let’s get into some specific examples of how you can be sure you’re using unconditional positive regard.

Example 1: Your child has gotten angry and hit their sibling.  You think to yourself, “How could you?”  But instead, you say, “Sweetie, I see that you’re very upset, but it’s never OK to hit.  I love you, and I know that you’re a good person.  Let’s talk about some better ways to handle those strong emotions you’re feeling, and then we will check in with your brother.” 

Example 2: Your child carried way too much on their way to the breakfast table and spilled their cereal all over the floor, and the bowl broke.  You think to yourself, “I told you not to do that.”  But instead, you say, “Oh gosh, you were trying so hard to get to breakfast.  Can I help you clean that up?  Maybe next time, this will be a two-trip kind of meal.” 

Example 3: Your child got frustrated with their homework and tore the papers in half.  You think, “You little…”  But instead, you say, “Let’s take a break from homework.  You’re a bright kid, but learning new things is challenging and can feel overwhelming at times.  We’ll come back to this later and figure out how to resolve this situation.” 

In each of these examples, you’re letting your child know that the specific behavior they exhibited (hitting, carrying too much, tearing their homework) is not OK, but you’re making it clear that your child is still good.  You may be disappointed in the outcome, but you’re not disappointed in them.  Everybody makes mistakes as they learn and grow, and those mistakes don’t make you a bad person.  If you remember nothing else from this post, remember that: You may feel disappointed by a specific behavior or the outcome of a situation, but that is very different from telling your child that you are disappointed in them.   

This concept is important for all children but especially important for children who are more sensitive to feedback.  If you have a child who either gets very quiet and solemn or very defensive and reactive when they make a mistake, they may be especially sensitive to feedback.  It’s important to use concise and nonjudgmental feedback with them to prevent a relatively minor incident from feeling like a catastrophe to them.

Without negative judgment, your child is still learning what they need to learn from these life experiences to continue to grow into caring, responsible, and independent adults.  They’re also learning that they can come to you whenever something bad happens to them, and you will show them love and support without judgment.  That will come in very handy if they ever run into trouble during those tricky teenage years.  And just think about how well this approach will set you up for a wonderful lifelong relationship with your childAll that is on top of building your child’s internal sense of self-esteem and self-confidence, that I mentioned earlier.

Let’s focus on resilience for a minute.  Resilience refers to a child’s ability to adapt, cope, and bounce back from challenges, setbacks, or adversities they may encounter.  Are there resilient children who did not experience unconditional positive regard as children?  Absolutely.  Do I think a child is more likely to become a resilient kid when raised with unconditional positive regard?  Absolutely.  Life is full of challenges.  Knowing they always have you in their corner as an emotional safety net can go a long way in helping kids overcome those challenges.  Let’s raise our kids to be resilient by showing them unconditional positive regard.

My challenge for you this week is to try to catch yourself the next time something unfortunate happens in your home, then take a slow, deep breath while you pause and think about how you can respond in a nonjudgmental manner.  Offer feedback in a supportive way.  See the difference in how your child reacts to the event and see the difference in the mood around the event.  Show yourself some grace because change takes time.  But each time you make a conscious choice to respond to the behavior rather than judge your child, you’ll start to see a step in the right direction for their sense of self and your relationship with them.  Good luck, amazing parents!

Using unconditional positive regard to guide communication with your child is part of the Communication category in my 5 C’s parenting framework (see The 5 C’s to Amazing Parenting).  To view more posts in this category, use the category search menu on the right of your screen.  Keep up the good work on your amazing parenting journey!

P.S. If you like the idea of getting intentional about your parenting and focusing on how you communicate with your children, you might be interested in learning more about my 5 C’s framework and continuing your amazing parenting journey with my free Bootcamps.  Find a Bootcamp specific to your child’s age and save your spot today.


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Amazing parenting is not about always saying
and doing the right thing and raising perfect children.  It’s about becoming intentional in your parenting and proactive in learning skills to help you parent more effectively in a way that fits best for your unique parent-child dynamics.

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