Almost every time I’ve listened to the stories of someone lacking self-confidence or going through recurring relationship problems, depression, anger, etc. I’ve heard one of a child who felt they weren’t loved, weren’t loved as much as another sibling, or were loved conditionally e.g. by good grades, winning, doing chores etc.
Mom/Dad didn’t love me because ..
Children associate attention, touch and approval with love and when parents withhold them, children think love is being withheld. They try to make sense of it and they wrongly conclude that something must be wrong with them. These poor kids then they go through the rest of their lives focusing on confirming evidence for their conclusion, blind to almost all parental acts that contradict their defining theme: “I’m unlovable because there’s something wrong with me.”
hence the need for Oprah, Dr. Phil, and Deepak Chopra
The consequence of this drives much of the self-help, coaching and psychiatric industries. Children who carry this story into adulthood have relationship and career problems because they are angry, fearful, depressed, lack self-confidence and more. Great for Oprah, Dr. Phil and their lesser disciples but they wouldn’t be needed so much if children simply felt …
loved no matter what
If children felt the love of their parents was unconditional the world would a better place. There might be a lot more loving, self-confident, generous people who shared and cared for each other, who supported each other’s dreams and are able to admit wrong.
But how does a parent communicate unconditional love when their child is constantly behaving badly … dammit!
Decoupling approval from love
Perhaps the toughest thing for a parent to do is to guide and nurture appropriate behaviour without with-holding love. Destructive habit-forming behaviour needs to stop now and the most obvious way to do that is to show disapproval, and punish.
The trick is to decouple these from love. For a young child in the process of forming their view of the world and what things mean it’s natural to collapse attention, approval, and touch with love. When these are withheld it’s natural for a child to think that love is also being withheld so it’s important to demonstrate that love is still there even though mom and dad disapprove of behaviour.
Try practicing acknowledgments
All a parent has to do is practice the simple act of acknowledging the love they have for a child,(indeed even with their spouse or siblings), independent of any behaviour e.g. getting a good grade, winning a contest, performing a chore etc.
A frequent practice of letting a child know they are loved independent of behaviour or performance is the best way to communicate unconditional love. And acknowledging a child doesn’t mean always saying the words “I love you;” it could simply be a hug for no reason, or an authentically asked “What did you do today?”
This I think is the best way to decouple disapproval, punishment etc. from love.
Demonstrate unconditional love
The one job of a parent—if it could be distilled into one thing— is to make sure their children get that they are loved no matter what; they are loved for who they are and who they are not; they’re loved just because they are them.
The best way I know how to do that is to always have time each day or at least each week to communicate and show interest in what’s going on in a child’s life. This works great among us grown-ups as well.
It’s ironic that all of our communication tools and social apps facilitate shallow communication with thousands of people, but with no depth to even one person.
For that we still need that old-fashioned killer app called conversation.
Through conversation you celebrate victories, learn from defeats, create dreams, revive careers, show gratitude and nurture healthy relationships.
Through frequent authentic conversation you can acknowledge the beauty and inherent worth in your children, you can remind them that they are loved, no matter what. That more than anything else will prepare them for living a great life.
Click here for an example of a Dad who seems to be doing that with his kids.