How to Love Your Children

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How to Love Your Children

Understanding and fulfilling their greatest need
From the Nov-Dec 2008 Trumpet Print Edition

Do you want a strong relationship with your children?

Early on in life, most parents, mothers especially, feel a deep bond with their children. Sometimes, however, as our children grow, that bond can fray—children can grow distant—barriers can go up—a “generation gap” develops. Is it possible to prevent that, and actually make those bonds stronger as our children grow?

It may come as no surprise that a child’s greatest need is to be loved by his parents. But what is love? It is not an emotion. It is action—a way of life. That way of life is one of outgoing concern for the one loved. In one word, love is the way of give.

In this fast-paced world, we tend to give our children more things and less of ourselves. Studies show that between 1965 and the late 1980s, the amount of time children spent interacting with parents dropped 43 percent. A 1992 study conducted at Stanford University found that parents in 1986 were spending 10 to 12 hours less each week with their children than parents in 1960.

Is it any wonder that a “generation gap” develops in those circumstances?

Our children need us to give of ourselves. They need our loving attention more than they need things. They even need it more than they need our instruction or discipline!

Trumpet editor in chief Gerald Flurry recommends that in our time with our children, only 5 percent should be spent in discipline, and another 10 percent in teaching and instruction.

The other 85 percent should be love.

How do we practice that formula? How do we forge strong bonds quickly with our children? Here are some practical tips.

Tip 1—Make your children smile and laugh.

Each day, ask yourself: How much have I made my children laugh or smile today? Also ask, How much have I laughed with my children today? Make goofy faces at them. Tickle them. Let them see you happy. Don’t be afraid to sing songs with them. Play happy music and dance around the house. Point is: Do things together that make you all smile and laugh. Here’s a hint. If, when you’re done with those things, your child asks you to “do it again!”—you’re on the right track.

The Apostle Paul taught that ministers are to be “helpers of your joy” (2 Corinthians 1:24). Parents should fulfill this role in the home. We must first set an example of living a joyful, hope-filled life, and then strive to inspire that same joy in our children.

Much of this can be accomplished simply by playing with your children. Recall your own fondest memories of your parents. Even if your relationship was strained, you may remember piggyback rides or games of catch with Dad, or laughing and romping with Mom on the floor. Those types of activities, if kept in balance and without excessive roughness, can establish a bond with your children more quickly than almost any other activity.

Tip 2—Listen to your children.

Certainly there are times when your children should listen to you. Few things help someone more, though, than being listened to.

If your son can come to you with a little problem about his Lego creation when he’s 7, and you do everything you can to help him through it, he will be more likely to come to you with a more grown-up issue when he’s 17.

Family meals and family Bible studies are great opportunities for you to build the listening habit. Understand what’s on your children’s minds and in their hearts. If you make that effort, you will come to understand and appreciate them more, and they will feel respected and be far likelier to return that respect.

In 1 Thessalonians 2:11, the Apostle Paul shows that a good father is one who has “exhorted and comforted and charged” his children. As a simple study of those words in the original Greek language will illustrate, a loving parent is one who consoles, strengthens, teaches and even calms. We must have a calming presence on our house. Our children should be strengthened and encouraged by us.

Tip 3—Show your children physical affection.

Relationship counselor Gary Smalley suggests that married couples give each other seven meaningful, affectionate, non-sexual touches a day. He suggests this will actually improve any relationship.

Consider applying it to your children. Seven meaningful, affectionate, non-functional touches each day—not just holding their hand as they cross a street, or disciplining them, but really showing them affection with your touch. For a start, perhaps set a goal to hug and kiss them once when they go to sleep, when they wake up, when you or your children leave the house and when you or they get home.

Tip 4—Praise your children.

I don’t mean flatter. I don’t mean puff up their vanity or give them a warped sense of self-esteem like so many “experts” today tell you to. At the same time, don’t be so afraid of turning them into narcissists that you fail to give them the encouragement they need.

Give genuine compliments about their accomplishments. They need specific comments on what they are doing well: be it drawing, spelling, sports, music, playing or building. Get detailed in your praise. Don’t just compliment your daughter’s coloring; give her specific feedback on what she is doing well. Praise like this will also help children not feel like they are so great, but that they are doing something worthy of praise. Practicing this will spur them to even greater accomplishment—and, at the same time, draw them closer to you.

Let love dominate 85 percent of the time you spend with your children. This is what they need most of all. They don’t need more things. They don’t need more activities or opportunities. They need us! That is what we must give them. That puts all the things, activities and opportunities in the right perspective and balance.

How do we fulfill our children’s greatest need? By giving our lives to them—our time and energy—ourselves. We must love our children by giving them our attention and admonition, our consolation and comfort, our laughter and our lives.