Why do some children feel unloved?
They may not directly say ‘I hate you!‘ Ouch! I find these children get labelled as ‘attention seeking’ or fight with their siblings to make sure you’re paying attention. They are actually connection seeking and looking for love from you.
‘How ridiculous Lisa, of course I love my child – 100% without a shadow of a doubt. I don’t even need to think about it.’
I love my kids 24/7. FACT!
You may even continue to back that up with ‘I love them when they smother me in snotty, dirty kisses after a fun afternoon at the park. I love the way they get up all sleepy with bed hair and ask me, ”What’s for breakfast?”. I love it when they say the rudest things at the most inappropriate moments and get away with it.’
(I quote: ‘That lady smells or why has that man got a big belly?’)
So you really do love them then?
‘Yes,’ you insist.
Could I challenge you a bit further, and ask if you still love them just as much when they are incessantly whinging at you for more treats or TV time?
‘Oh yes!‘ you cry, ‘I love them when they hang out bedtime and I lose the will to ask them to clean their teeth one more time and GET TO BED!! I love them when they terrorise the cat and think I can’t see them.’
‘I love them when the word why makes a car journey seem like an episode of Mastermind (because I said so never being the right answer). I love them when they are late, stubborn, sulky, cheeky, disobedient ……’ said no parent ever!!!
In fact, I would go as far as to say that sometimes after a particularly fraught and manic day, you may love them most when they are asleep. Gaaaaasp! It’s okay. Most parents feel that way often. We must talk more openly about how hard parenting is. Besides, children need a lot of love.
So, how do they know that you really, really love them?
Let’s think about how the love that is oozing from your every pore (yes I know it is because you really, really love your kids even though sometimes they cause you to shout, despair and all manner of uncomfortable feelings) gets translated to your child.
Apparently, there are 5 ways. In fact, they are called love languages – the way we like to give love and the way that we love others. They are words, physical touch, quality time, acts of service and gifts.
You may truly love your child but unless they feel it, they will not feel loved
This simple and maybe obvious insight came to me via the New York Times best selling ‘5 Love Languages of Children’ by Gary Chapman and Ross Campbell. This book tells you how by discovering your child’s love language, you will keep your child’s emotional tank topped up.
An emotional tank is a place of emotional strength that can fuel your child throughout the challenging days of childhood. Just like a car needs petrol to run, your child needs a large supply of unconditional love (real love is unconditional) to get them through. The thing is, you can’t do this until your child is 5. Before this age, the book recommends that you use each one of the 5 love languages in which there are many fab ideas to demonstrate each one.
‘That is love, Ruby. Love heals all suffering—sadness, loneliness, anger and fear. Love is enough, Ruby. Fear is the opposite of love. When people are afraid, they try to control things they have no control over. Love is more powerful than fear, but people have to open their hearts to let love in. In life, people suffer—things happen which hurt them. They become bitter and they harden themselves to love. They stop feeling and shut off parts of themselves. They miss the lesson because they’re in pain and they prematurely close the door to love. We have to make the effort to choose love instead of fear, even when it’s hard.’
– Stuck Between Two Worlds by Lisa Parkes
But I tell my child I love them every day!
Lots of parents just assume their kids will know that they love them or think that by saying ‘I love you’ is enough. Wrong. Children are behaviourally motivated and they respond to actions – what you do with them. So to reach out to them, you need to love them on their terms. You need to speak their language of love.
Love is the secure foundation children need
Speaking your child’s love language does not mean he or she will rebel later in life. When a child feels love they are more open to listening from a parent or teacher. Of course, it is necessary to discipline your child, (read: guide them with empathetic boundaries), but only after their emotional tanks have been filled and refilled (they deplete regularly). If you know your child’s love language, you can also parent them and help them learn in the way that is suitable for them.
No child can receive too much appropriate unconditional love. Love is the solid foundation that gives a child security, hope and a strong sense of self. The child who feels genuinely loved and cared for can do their very best.
Conditional versus unconditional love
Without love, a small baby would die. Love creates an environment for positive personal growth and therefore, healthy self-esteem. Life it tricky sometimes, so this comes in handy when we’re adults. When you love your child with conditions and love them only when they please you or do as they are told, that instantly becomes a breeding ground for insecurity.
Think about how you would feel if your partner only loved you when you were doing things that he liked or approved of. Yuck.
Or what about conditional love only when your child meets your requirements? The child gets a very clear message that says, if I don’t do what you say, I am incompetent. The child could even end up believing that their best is not good enough. Hello a lifetime of insecurity, anxiety, low self-esteem and anger.
In ‘Rediscover the Magic of Parenting in a Busy World’ you’ll find 30 ways to strengthen your emotional connection with your child. You will also get 2 coaching videos presented by me which takes a deep dive into love languages. It’s such a simple and yet, powerful concept. Read how it has been a game changer for other parents.
It’s not about loving them more or being with them all the time
It’s simply about loving them in the way that feels like love to them. Often sibling rivalry is created because parents are not expressing their love in a way that feels like love to a child.
My Dad used to complain that he couldn’t give me enough cuddles. I always wanted more. Maybe I had a leaky bucket? Or maybe I knew that physical touch was his love language. A man of few words, I unconsciously knew he couldn’t meet me in the space that felt like love to me. So, I settled for joining him in his world so I could feel close to him.
Leaky bucket or mis-matched love languages?
Imagine if your love language was quality time and your parents divorced. You would really feel that love deficit – like you were only get 50% of their love. Or imagine if your love language is physical touch and your parent is not a hugger. What if your love language is quality time, but your parent works all the hours? They are a generous gift giver because they grew up in a poor family.
Parents project their wounds onto their children. This is trauma, not love.
Think about the way your parents loved you and how that translates into how you love others now. Do you like to be loved in the same way that you love others? You might also like to read 10 Ways Unhealthy Love Can Damage a Child.
‘My Mum puts gifts in our Christmas stockings and she spends ages planning our birthdays.This is the way she shows love. And with food. I don’t think I feel love in that way. We have different love languages. A bit like a Spanish person talking to a French person— nothing makes sense.’
– Stuck Between Two Worlds, by Lisa Parkes
It’s also about loving yourself harder
‘Others cannot give you what they don’t have inside of them. It’s like squeezing orange and expecting champagne to come out! You’re looking for what you need from people who can’t give it to you. It’s not their fault, but start shopping elsewhere! I can only love you as much as I love myself. How much I love you does not equate to how lovable you are.’
– Stuck Between Two Worlds, by Lisa Parkes
What is your love language?
Tell me in the comments below. Mine is words. I was born on 14th February (St. Valentine is the chief of love) and I started talking at 10 months. I’ve also spent a lifetime understanding what healthy love looks like.
Those of you that listen to Truly Madly Smiley know as a huge chatter box, I love you with my words in every single episode. I think words have an energy that can be felt. The power of words and the intention behind them is never lost on me. Episode 48 – The One with the Powerful Words has a fun experiment for demonstrating how the way we speak to ourselves and others shapes us. Words can build us up or deflate us….if we choose to let them into our hearts.
I write + teach extensively about love
Imagine if we learned about love languages at school? Would we understand each other more? Would there be more learning in a connected classroom? Here on the blog and in my book, Stuck Between Two Worlds, I describe love like this:
‘Love is easy to say, but really it’s a doing word. Love is in actions and love is freely given. Love is all those little things—an encouraging smile with kind eyes, noticing that you’re there. Being pleased to see you and letting you know that you’re welcome.Love is spending time together just because. Love doesn’t need a plan. Love is remembering to ask ‘how are you?’ and to hang around long enough to care about the answer.
Love can be hard too. Love is telling the truth and having difficult conversations. Love is choosing to be kind instead of right. Love is letting people try it their way, even if it’s different to ours. Love allows us to be different without being wrong. Love doesn’t have to be right. Love doesn’t leave anybody out, it brings everybody together. Love reaches out and holds our hand when we’re lonely.
Love pulls us up when we fall and says, ‘I’ve got you’ and not ‘I told you so’. Love sees us and accepts us as we are. Love is the reason we feel wanted.
Love shows us that we matter and we’re not an afterthought or an inconvenience.
Love is letting people be who they are and not trying to change them. Love doesn’t need us to be perfect. We give love because we want to, not because we expect something in return. Not to control people—to guilt them into doing what we want or to get them to love us back. Love is a choice. Love isn’t something you take away when somebody disappoints us or does something we don’t like. When people struggle, or suffer, they actually need more love. Love doesn’t control. That’s fear’s job.’
Ask: What would love do?
Children live for and want your love and approval. They will go to extremes sometimes to get your time and attention. So when they are acting out, top up their love tanks and notice what happens! You might be pleasantly surprised.