It has been well said that love makes the world go round as it gives happiness to people and makes them better human beings. Love includes many feelings and behaviors which are transacted through positive interactions between people.
Love, respect and a caring attitude towards others are some of the positive behaviors to be inculcated in our children to lay a strong foundation for them, on which to build their future interpersonal relations that are happy and long lasting. The earlier you start, the better will be the gains and deeper will be the depth of their love.
To begin with, how do we describe love to children at their level?
A parent can be the best example of love to their child because they consider each other as the center of their universe, and, live in close proximity to each other.
Parents have to let their child know about love through their actions towards everyone around them. The former often demonstrate their feelings of love and affection, by a hug and a kiss, or a warm caress whenever the latter needs them or not. This is very reassuring to the child as she feels well loved and important to her parents and her family.
At what age can we hope that our child will express love and affection for others?
Toddlerhood is the right age for your child to start knowing about love and care as they have just begun showing their emotions along with facial expressions. They have also begun to understand the language used by their parents, especially to tell them what is right and what is not! Due to the toddler’s tantrums and other behaviors such as biting, screaming and hitting other children, it is an opportune time to talk about some “good behaviors.”
From three to five years on, the child begins to express her feelings in words and sentences and shows a relatively calm exterior. This is the time that she will observe and listen to what you are saying, and learn new behaviors.
Once she starts developing a friend or two, after a few months at the preschool, it is another milestone which helps you to start helping her to manage these friendships with love and caring.
After weeks and months of experimenting with moods, and, learning to share toys and joys, at four years onwards, the child is ready to function in small groups and is generally very friendly.
This means that the child is now ready to express love and related behaviors and will continue to observe the parents and imbibe the nuances for which she is now better suited.
The above knowledge on young children serves as indicators to show us what to plan when, and how we may provide inputs to our children to express their love towards others.
Before we go any further, we need to keep certain points in mind:
- Children learn the “good” as well as the “bad” behaviors as they imitate everything they observe. Therefore, parents at all times should, demonstrate desirable behaviors (walk the talk) for children to copy.
- Parents themselves need to be giving, loving, respectful, caring and try to make other people happy as much as possible. By watching the parental interactions, the child can imbibe them over time through practice.
- Parents should, as far as possible, verbalize each new action/behavior that they are demonstrating to their child, so that the latter can learn best through more than one sense. In this case, observing through the eyes and listening through the ears.
How do we motivate our children to express love and affection towards others around them?
- Let us begin with toddlerhood. The toddlers have not developed the facility to express their feeling of love, except for spontaneous and exuberant hugs and kisses due to some exciting discovery to be shared with parents. If parents show equal excitement, along with an “I love you baby” they are showing their love and affection for the child. This helps the toddler know that her parents love her and she is reassured of that again.
At this stage it is important for children to observe and hopefully copy sometimes, the positive behaviors their parents shower lovingly over them. The parents may kiss or hug the child when they care for her, as well as spend quality time. She will also observe how the parents say “I love you so much my pumpkin! Other times the significant other members of the family are not behind in following suit.
At night time the children are tucked in bed, maybe with a lullaby or a story, to help them fall asleep without worrying about the darkness. Is this not an act of kindness and love from parents?
Further, if or when the parents treat their neighbors and visitors with due respect, dignity, care and politeness, it is most probable that these behaviors will be returned by them.
All the above, positive, loving and caring relationships are observed by children and get registered in their minds which, later, they come to know them as part of expressing love.
Parents may rest assured that, during the next few months after more observation and practice, your child will reciprocate with these positive behaviors she has picked up from you and other family members.
At about three plus years, children consciously start to express behaviors of love and affection learnt at home. They have had time to practice and assimilate them by now.
Due to increased grip over their motor and intellectual development as well as the spoken language and corresponding facial expressions, the children add many more ways of expressing feelings or emotions in their repertoire, such as showing concern towards others or kindness towards a pet.
As parents you can therefore encourage your child to verbalize her feelings and letting others know how she feels e.g. showing her concern towards her older brother who has just hurt his hand by saying” does it hurt?” or by making a “get well “ card and handing it over to the ailing neighbor.
You child is now ready to understand when you start giving examples of the concept of love by asking questions such as “how much do you love your dad?”, “Are you happy playing with the teddy that your uncle gave you?” “Do you know that your little sister is crying because she just lost her favorite doll?” “Today we all are happy because we will celebrate your birthday” or by saying “Don’t you hug your dad and myself whenever we give you a lovely surprise?”
We all feel like this because we love each other.
You can help your child understand that these feelings are expressed for others as we love and like them a lot .We therefore want to make them feel happy by telling them how we feel or by doing something for them.
Around this time, the three to four plus year old children can be helped to interact positively with their siblings and friend/s. They can be helped to use appropriate ways of expressing love, affection, sharing, and concern and so on. Special events may be celebrated by inviting the friends and enjoying together. Family members and friends may be given some art or craft item prepared lovingly by them on special occasions.
When visiting relatives and friends, the children may be asked to extend greetings and behave with politeness and respect towards them. The reasons must be known to the child before expressing all these behaviors.
At this age your child is ready to talk about her own feelings, with you whenever she feels strongly about something. Maybe she feels sad about having a fight with her best friend or that she feels so happy with her older brother because he taught her how to ride the new bike.
In conclusion, it may be said that the more the children understand about the feelings of love, the more they will be able to imbibe this precious gift known as love, as they grow older. They will realize along the way that it can be given to significant people who will also give and express love in return.
More strategies on how children can express love.
- Children may plan surprises for family members and friends with the help of an adult. This makes them feel happy and needed.
- Occasionally mothers can find time in the daily routine to encourage her child to contribute her help. This promotes the concept of sharing and lessening others’ burden.
- Older children can be involved in caring for the family baby under the mother’s supervision (they can fetch the baby’s things or clothes and hold things while the mother attends the baby. This promotes a helping nature and concern for those who can’t help themselves.
- Children can make phone calls to near and dear ones such as grandparents who live away from them, on special occasions like birthdays and anniversaries. This is important in keeping in touch and spreading happiness.
- Sometimes the older child can share a favorite toy or candy with her younger sibling or her best friend. At other times she can help her sibling in keeping away her toys and storybooks back in their proper places. This promotes the need to do an act of kindness whenever possible and or necessary towards someone you love.
- Children can help water some potted plants and help care for them whenever possible and willing.
- Children can also help look after the household pet. This promotes a caring attitude towards someone you love.