Parenting Tip of the Month

From the Parent Project’s “Changing Destructive Adolescent Behavior”

Love and Affection

The three most empowering words in any language are, I Love you. Parents who understand the importance of these three words, and practice them daily, will have mastered the single most important element of successful parenting.

Love and affection are the keys to effective parent/child communication, discipline, and play a vital role in building a child’s self-esteem. Sadly, children often involve themselves in destructive behavior because they do not believe their parents love or care about them. (The bumper sticker: Have you hugged your kid today? was originally developed as a campaign to help parents keep their children from using drugs and alcohol.)

Simply loving children is not enough. Parents’ love for their children must be expressed. Many parents, especially fathers, often find it difficult to tell those closest to them how they feel. It is essential for children to know they’re loved today for who they are, and not what they might become. Children are “now” centered. They seldom think of the future and do not usually hold on to parental messages from one day to the next. For these reasons, most experts agree parents’ love for their children should be communicated daily.

When teenagers are having difficulties, parental expressions of love may not be openly acknowledged by the child. Nevertheless, love must be expressed daily. Hugs and kisses and pats on the back are great. They all help to show love and affection to a child, but there is no replacement for a meaningful, “I love you.” These three words can work wonders and are irreplaceable in changing destructive adolescent behavior.

We recommend parents use one of these three expressions of love:

A verbal, “I love you.”

A text or written, “I love you.”

Hugs and kisses.

Find the one that works best for you and begin using it daily. The following example helps to demonstrate the changing power of Love.

At the end of one class we taught, one mother waited until all of the other parents had left before approaching us. She said that she did not think she could tell her two teenage daughters that she loved them. She told us she was never hugged nor kissed as a child, and her parents had never told her that she was loved. She had raised her two daughters in the same way.

Our hearts went out to this single mother. We looked at each other and took a deep breath before saying, Nevertheless. . . If you cannot do this, we are not sure we can help you! Can you write? We asked. Yes, she replied. Can your daughters read? Yes, she said again. Then write them I Love You notes, and put them in their school lunch bags. Will you try writing them both a love note this next week? It was her turn to take a deep breath. OK, she responded.

As we left that evening, we were probably as anxious as this mother. As soon as she walked into the classroom the following week, we rushed up to her. Did you put the notes in their lunch bags? Yes, she said. Well? Don’t keep us hanging. What happened? Well, she began; I was sitting on the sofa when my girls returned home from school. Without saying a word, they ran up to me, picked me up off the sofa, carried me into my bedroom, threw me on my bed, and tickled me until I wet my pants!

What were her daughters trying to tell their mother? You guessed it. We love you too. Sadly, they had not yet learned how to say it either.

In nearly every class we’ve taught, some parents experience a little miracle. That is, they return home from class, begin heartfelt expressions of their love to their children and their child’s behavior begins changing almost immediately. Everything we will do in this course begins with an effective, I Love You. We are not promising all of you immediate miracles, but Love and Affection is our first building block and the foundation of everything we will learn in this course.

Some parents have confessed that open displays of love and affection are not a part of their culture or the way they were raised. We certainly understand cultural differences. If you are a parent experiencing these thoughts, we encourage you to ask yourselves a simple question; How is my child currently behaving without my open displays of love and affection? If the answer is, terrific, you probably don’t need this class. If the answer is, You don’t wanna know, we’re offering a formula. This formula for changing destructive adolescent behavior has worked for tens of thousands of families of varying nationalities all over the country. If parents leave out any single part of the formula, including love and affection, we are not sure we can help you. But, for the parent who is willing to put aside the way they were raised, busyness, and other personal barriers, and truly commit him or herself to helping their children, everything is possible.

The power of parental love was driven home at a funeral we attended. Our friend, a young father of two, had been tragically killed in an accident. When his 17 year-old son spoke at his father’s funeral he said, “The thing I will miss the most is my father’s daily text message telling me how much he loves me.”

Without open displays of love and affection, discipline, structure, communication and the family itself will suffer greatly.