Find out what The Parenting Network suggests is the most important parenting tool in this excerpt from their upcoming parenting book!
When parents ask us this question we go straight to the three principles that guide and influence everything we do as parents. These principles dramatically improve our relationships with our children and how our children perceive themselves for the rest of their lives.
It’s our secret sauce in parenting: we call it LRC. Children raised in an atmosphere of LRC feel loved, valued, sure of themselves, respectful of others, and keen to participate and contribute to the family.
Children not raised with LRC feel conditionally loved, have a lack confidence in their abilities, are disrespectful to others, and are reluctant to cooperate and contribute to family life. These children are more likely to misbehave, be defiant and rebel.
What does LRC stand for?
- Unconditional love for the child, no matter how they behave
- Respect for the child’s ability to make choices and do things for himself
- Confidence that he has the ability to manage the outcome of his choices and decisions
“Improve Family Relationships Challenge”
Now before you pat yourself on the back and say, “I do LRC already!”, we challenge you to practice the following ideas on Unconditional Love. Parents signed up for our newsletter will receive some ideas on Respect, and then Confidence. We’ll have you feeling great about your parenting in no time!
Part 1 – Unconditional Love
We all love our children. But if we take a look at what we actually say and do, what might we see? What message are we giving to our children in the words we choose, the behaviors we display, and in the tone of our voice?
Is it: I love you for the wonderful child you are? Or is it: I love you only if you listen, if you behave yourself, or if you turn off the T.V.?
Now, we also love our children ‘no matter what’. Who would ever say, I love my child only if she cleans up her room? No one! Yet what we say and do can inadvertently send a message we do not intend. Throughout the day, we might find ourselves saying the following words:
“I will be unhappy if you don’t…”
“I will be disappointed in you…”
OR: “It would make me happy if you…”
How do our children interpret these words? From the child’s point of view, it doesn’t matter what we intend. What they want is very simple—love and approval from the parent. If we show, with our words and emotions, that we are angry or upset with our child over a certain behavior, the child may interpret it like this: Mom or Dad will love me more or less if I behave a certain way.
Our child will think we love him more if he performs as we wish and less if he trips up. He’ll think our love is conditional, with strings attached, and this can affect him for his whole life. We might think that he has misinterpreted us, but has he? Could we be sending the message that our happiness or unhappiness depends on his behavior?
A child does something noteworthy at school or at home, and we practically beam our love. But then, when he’s not doing his homework and ignoring our reminders, we raise our eyebrows and sigh in frustration and our tone becomes sharper. Or we snap. So our child might think: Mom or Dad doesn’t love me right now. This can feed a feeling of insecurity that will be highly detrimental over time. If a child believes this, it hurts.
Losing a parent’s love and approval hurts a child more than anything. And, it will invite one of three reactions:
- The child tries to win our love back by being obedient or pleasing
- The child hurts us back, retaliates
- The child gives up and retreats into her shell.
Whichever way, she’s discouraged and feeling insecure.
If parents appear happy, sad or mad as a result of a child’s performance, the child not only sees this judgment but internalizes good or bad feelings about themselves.
With time, it can become a given, a conviction, a belief: How well I perform=How much I am loved.
Our solution to this dilemma is simple:
Love and accept our children as they are. Give them unconditional love instead of conditional love. Recognize that performance varies in life, goes up and down, but our love for our child does not. They need to know that no matter how they perform, regardless of whether they succeed or fail, they can count on our unconditional love and support. In an atmosphere of unconditional love, our children will develop a strong sense of belonging, and feel safe in our love.
How do we do this in practice?
Separate the deed from the doer. In other words, I love you; I won’t always love your behavior.
We won’t always love everything our child does, but our love for him is never in question. Say your child is not getting ready for school in the morning. Even if you find yourself raising your voice more than you wished, you can make sure he knows you’re blasting his behavior, not him. Andrew, you know I love you but I’m getting really frustrated at how long you’re taking this morning!
Three Daily Greetings with Hugs
We like to build unconditional love into every day with our children. Here’s an easy way we suggest to all parents. It’s called the Three Daily Greetings with Hugs. Hugging is fundamental to this ritual because it’s a physical demonstration of our love. Of course you can share your love more frequently but this is a powerful practice to start.
The first greeting in your child’s day is in the morning. Instead of “Come on get out of bed, we don’t want to be late”, we like to say something warm and caring such as, “It’s great to see you! I need one of your hugs. Last night’s has all worn off.” Share the unbridled joy you feel seeing your child. Then you can focus on the needs of the morning, but get that greeting and close connection with your child in there first! They may say ‘Go away!’ and pull the covers over their heads, but that’s o.k.
The second greeting and hug in the day is when we reunite—when we pick them up at school or get home from work. Before anything else, we like to let our kids know they’re the most important person in that moment, with a hug, a warm greeting, or a few words about how we thought about them during that day. Then they might hit us with their lunch box and say ‘You make yucky lunches’, but we know the words of unconditional love got in there, and they learn yet again that they don’t have to do anything to earn our love. It has nothing to do with their performance, it’s there no matter what!
The third important greeting in the day is bedtime. Even if things went off the rail and got ugly, it’s great to assure them of our love, with words and actions.
Affection can be easier for some parents than it is for others.
Even if you have trouble with it, this is a good time to dig deep. Research shows over and over again the power of closeness. It’s good for all children, even your teenager. Affection can be as simple as a big smile or a loving rub of their shoulder, or a wink from across the room. Or you might pull them up onto your lap for a cuddle, or have a wrestle on the floor. Little kids like hugs, big kids like hugs.
The bottom line: Love is not supposed to be a tool to manipulate our children’s behavior. It shouldn’t be used as a reward or punishment. When we shower our children with our unconditional love, it provides them with a secure and safe place to use their internal creativity, to grow, learn and flourish.
For more information on The Parenting Network’s new book and to sign up for their newsletter for more tips and advice, please visit: http://parentingnetwork.ca/
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What do you consider your most important parenting tool? Share your thoughts with us in the Comments section below!