By Dawna, Author of the Blog Crazy Messy Beautiful.
Happy February! With this month being “the month of love” I wanted to share ways on how we love others in our home.
Love is both a noun and a verb. Today I will be talking more about the verb side of love as in how we can cherish those the Lord has allowed in our lives and help them thrive. I will be relating this post to children today but the tips below can be helpful in any relationship.
When I think of the children the Lord has blessed me with, I see how vastly different they are from one another. They look different, act different, learn differently from one another, and their love languages are different . It takes time studying them, making mistakes, and as they become older, being able to talk with them about what they enjoy and how best to enter their world. Here are my top 5 tips of showing love to my tribe.
Entering another person’s world and being able to listen and talk with them about their interests, likes, dislikes, fears, accomplishments, etc. is key to growing a relationship. In our home we have an open door policy. I let my children know they can come to me with anything at any time. Some of my children are more natural at talking than others. So, it is important that I am patient with those who are more introverted. I have a few quiet children who don’t need to verbally process all the time. However, when they are ready to have an in depth conversation it is often spur of the moment, late at night,... and it can be a three hour journey. I want to make sure I am available when they need to have these discussions. These moments are pivotal for building trust and are an amazing in road to your child’s heart. I encourage you strongly to make yourself available to your children whether they are talking about the superficial or deeper, harder things. When they know they can trust you with the little things, then they will come to you with the bigger things.
Great communication starts with listening. Dr. Stephen Covey, in his book 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, said it best when he wrote “ Seek first to understand, then to be understood.”
I am a recovering peace maker. It is my default to want to jump in and offer advice or help in order to try to make things better (a.k.a “fix things”). However, it often works best for me to keep my mouth shut while the other person shares, especially my children. Then, when the time is right or when asked, I will offer my advice. (This is so easier said than done.) If I am unsure if a child wants my advice, I will ask “Are you asking for my advice or do you just need a listening ear.” These seemingly simple small moments are huge for building a strong relationship with your child that is built on trust.
If you want to get to know your children then you need to engage them. Attend their games, join in a hobby together, take them out on a date, sit on the edge of their bed at night and ask them about their day. Spend some uninterrupted time with your child, one on one, so you can really get to know him more deeply. When you do engage your child, BE IN THE MOMENT. Put your phone in it’s docking station and walk away from it or silence it if you are out together. Give your child your undivided attention. Don’t be thinking about what you need to make for dinner, how dirty your child’s bedroom is, or about the argument you had with your boss that day. Be present.
Pursuing also includes checking in on them when they are having a hard day. Maybe they’ve had an argument with a friend or sibling. Just touch base and let them know that you see their pain and ask if they want to talk. Sometimes they may open up, other times they want their space, but asking really shows that you care and that you notice. Often times when my children have wanted space, they end up wanting to snuggle up and talk about it later on. Just the other day my six year old and I had a disagreement. He was very upset and wanted his space. So, I gave it to him. After about twenty minutes I checked in on him. He was hunched up in a corner. I sat down next to him, offered him a slice of banana bread and gently touched his shoulder, while asking if he wanted to talk. He nodded his head and we had a half an hour conversation together that ended with hugs, laughter, apologies, and us deciding to go play a game together.
3. Healthy Physical Touch
There are SO MANY studies that show the importance of physical touch. We have receptors under our skin and when we receive positive touch our heart rate lowers, our breathing slows down, stress hormones decrease, and our immune system boosts. Touch lowers anxiety and depression, especially in children. If you have a child who isn’t “huggy” so to speak, they may be unsettled by unexpected touch but they might enjoy a back rub if you ask first. The fact is that humans need physical touch. Touch signals safety and trust and is directly linked to feelings of reward and compassion. It has even been proven that NBA players who touched more won more games.
We hug a lot in our family. We hug when we are happy, when we are sad, and when we are upset. When my children are showing anger I will ask for permission to hug them or rub their back, sometimes they say yes and sometimes they say no. (Make sure you respect their “no”...). Almost always, if they are not comfortable with it in the moment, they will seek me out when they are ready for a big ol’ hug. It brings them comfort and healing and helps let them know that it is okay. Back rubs, pats on the back, holding hands, high fives, snuggling on the couch to watch a movie, putting your arm around their shoulder,… there are many ways to touch your child in a way that lets them know you care and are supporting them.
Children crave boundaries. They will naturally test their limits as they strive to become more independent and it is our job as parents to teach them how to test their limits respectfully. Part of having clear boundaries is having a routine to follow. When children know what to expect in their day it gives them a sense of security.
Brene Brown, in her book Rising Strong, defines boundaries as
“simply our lists of what’s okay and what’s not okay.”
It is an easy definition that you can teach your kids at an early age. Your children may also have boundaries of their own that they express such as “ I don’t like it when you use your angry voice, it scares me. So, when you use that voice when you are upset I need to go in a different room.” That is a healthy, boundary. You might tell Johnny “When we have friends over we do not play alone in our bedrooms. We play in the common areas with the doors open.” So, Johnny knows that when his friends come over they will be playing in the living room and playroom vs. the bedrooms. He knows what to expect and there won’t be resentment later on when his friends arrive and they ask to play upstairs in the bedrooms and you say “no”.
Hand in hand with boundaries comes consequences. Everything we do, whether good or bad, has a consequence. A consequence is the result of an action. For example: When we treat others respectfully, we have good relationships. When we are selfish and uncaring, we can lose relationships.
We talk about consequences a lot in our home. Whether I am saying:
“Thank you for sharing your crayons with your sister.”
Praise for a job well done is a consequence.
Or reminding the children:
“No screen time until your tasks are checked off”, consequences often come up in our day to day conversations.
If you don’t have firm consequences then your boundaries will mean nothing. We need to back up our boundaries with ramifications if we want healthy relationships.
"Consequences give some good "barbs" to fences. They let people know the seriousness of the trespass and the seriousness of our respect for ourselves." (Boundaries p. 40)
By giving consequences when people overstep their bounds, it helps teach them that we are committed to living according to the values that we have set for ourselves and that we intend on protecting/guarding those values.
In regards to children, we keep the consequences in our home as natural or related to the misbehavior (logical) as possible. Natural consequences are consequences that happen naturally, without any adult intervention. If you forget your coat, you get cold. If you don’t eat, you get hungry. With natural consequences parents should avoid lectures, ( “I told you so”) and stay out of the way as much as possible. The child often will already feel guilty enough about making a mistake. Rather than blaming or shaming your child when they experience a natural consequence, empathize with them. “You must’ve been cold today without your jacket. There’s hot water on the stove for cocoa or tea if you’d like something to warm you up” or “ I bet it was hard to go hungry at lunch. Feel free to make yourself a sandwich.” Or… say nothing at all. :)
We make sure we talk to our children about what we expect. For example: we have a Lego room in our home. We explained in advance that every evening after supper we expect the children to pick up all of the loose Legos and to place their creations on the shelves in the room. Whatever Legos are left out after pick up time will become property of Mom and Dad until further notice. The children tend to not leave Legos out.
We don’t just dive in and pick up Legos, taking them away without them knowing the expectation. That will only build bitterness and resentment. Explain ahead of time your expectations, set up healthy boundaries and then others will know what is permissible.
In our home here are some every day logical consequences we have:
If you make a mess you pick it up.
If you demand something of someone vs. asking nicely then you don’t get what you asked for.
If a child tells me they picked up the legos and they are not picked up when I check, then the legos that are left out become my property for a set period of time.
No screens until tasks are completed.
We teach love, respect, grace, and forgiveness in our home and in return we get it back. We, as parents, also abide by the same rules. We pick up after ourselves, we speak words that make souls stronger and when we mess up, we apologize. We don’t do it perfectly, no one can. But we do the best we can with what we have.
What are some ways you love others in your life? Please feel free to leave a comment below.
Thankful for the gift of you!