What does it mean to “show love?” Hugs, kisses, kind words, not pestering someone incessantly with questions, or telling someone, “I love you”? As a Dad of three young children (ages 9, 9 and 5), I’m constantly learning more from my kids on this subject than I ever thought possible.
If your kids are similar to mine, you see them showing love more often and more intensely than adults. For example, when my daughter greets me after I finish the workday, she stops whatever she is doing, runs over to me with arms wide open hollering “Daaaaaddyyyyy!” There’s a huge smile on her face as she wraps my leg up in a bear hug and I almost trip over her.
My sons are a little more reserved, and that could be due to their age, gender, or their shy personalities. But they still have the biggest, goofiest, most charming smiles reflecting in their eyes and hearts when we’re having a good time together.
The thing learned from my kids is when they are joyful, their whole body, voice, and posture all change in an explosion that can’t be missed. It’s obvious when they love someone. They don’t hide it.
Are all children born like this?
Maybe kids have a natural ability to show unapologetic, unrestrained love and affection from birth. However, sadly, research has shown that not all children display affection as easily as my children. Kids who grow up in abusive homes learn to keep their distance from adults and each other, probably to avoid getting hurt or disappointed. Perhaps one too many bad episodes poison their ability to openly show love.
I’m not an expert in child psychology, but I have observed families that are healthy and non-abusive, but where Dad and Mom are more reserved in showing affection. Their children, as well, are more reserved and less likely to explode into open displays of love. I can only conclude that what we Dads and Moms show them in our homes matters.
More is caught than taught
In past posts on finances and generosity, I’ve mention the phrase, “More is caught than taught” applies to children. We can tell them to be loving, but they learn by observing more than anything. When I give my wife a hug, a kiss on the check, a back rub, or just sit quietly beside her, I model a healthy outward display of love to my kids. They see this and absorb it. On the other hand, on occasions when I am agitated, quick-tempered, or emotionally cold with my wife, the kids tended to act out more.
Dads teach by doing. Teaching by preaching may work with math or sports, but not so much with love and affection.
Saying “I Love You”
February is Valentine’s month. As a husband and father, I recognize that saying “I love you” with chocolate, flowers, or a thoughtful gift can happen any time of the year. It can also happen when I do the dishes for my wife after a well-cooked meal, or even a not-so-well-cooked meal. When I open the door for her or help pick up when the kids come roaring in after a Saturday afternoon outdoor adventure, I’m showing my kids my “I love you.” When I turn off the TV, put aside the laptop, and invest my time and interest in whatever activity they are interest in, I’m showing my kids “I love you.”
Board games? Yes, I can play kids Monopoly with the best. Discussing the latest “mods” to the popular game Minecraft? A must for any parent who has a kid connected to the Internet.
But most importantly, it happens when I say, “I love you” every day. I tell my wife and kids each day, “I love you” accompany the words with a hug and a light kiss. Words are powerful, and so is repetition. The children are watching, learning, and imitating me. That’s a powerful thought and encouragement to remember that showing love starts with me.