Expressing Love To Your Child

by Pastor Jack Hyles

(Chapter 8 from Dr. Hyle's excellent book, How To Rear Infants)

For most of my days at home, I was the Only child. Lorene was the first child; she was afflicted. Lorene never walked or talked; in fact, she never got out of bed. She lived to be seven, and at that age, God took her to Himself.

The second child was a little girl named Hazel. Hazel was in every way a normal child. When she was seven she had a serious case of the measles and appeared to be well. Suddenly, however, there was a relapse and God took her to Heaven to be with Lorene.

The third child was Earlyne, my sister, who is eight years my senior and who is now Bursar at Hyles-Anderson College. When I was a young boy, Earlyne married. Not long after that, my father left us, and Mother and I were left to live together. Maybe it was because I was the only boy, maybe it was because Mother's two oldest children went to Heaven at the age of seven, or maybe it was because of my father turning to alcohol and leaving home that caused my mother to be very loving and affectionate to me. I do not ever recall as a child going to bed at night without my mother saying, "I love you, son." I do not ever recall to this day ever being at my mother's or with my mother for a small period of time without hearing her say, "I love you, son," as we parted. I am assuming in this chapter that you do love your child. There are millions of parents who sincerely love their children who are unable to convey that love. There are several ways that love can be expressed.

1. Express your love with words. Start at birth saying, "I love you." Let it be one of the first things that registers in the mind of the child. Let it be one of the first sentences the child learns to say. These "I love you's" should be appropriate. When the child is an infant, this poses no problem, for an infant cannot be embarrassed by such treatment. However, as the months and years pass, the verbal expressions of love should be fitly spoken at appropriate times and in appropriate ways. It should always be said at bedtime. For the smaller child it should be said when he goes out to play. It can be said later as the child leaves for school. The wise parents will be careful, however, when the child grows older to become more private with their verbal expressions of love.

It must be remembered that when a child comes into the world his first impressions are through feelings. As soon as he begins to talk, he soon learns to ask the question, "Do you love me?" He is grasping for affection.

2. Express your love with physical contact. Words are wonderful, but they are not enough. I John 3:18, "My little children, let us not love in word, neither in tongue; but in deed and in truth." When the infant has physical contact with his parents, he has a tremendous urge to be cuddled, held, hugged and kissed. It is tragic but true that most parents do very little of this, especially as the infant becomes a small child and as the small child becomes a bigger child and as the bigger child becomes an adolescent. As the little child grows older, the touch of the parent is basically given only when necessary, such as when dressing the child, putting him into his high chair, helping him into the car, etc. The wise parent will find ways of giving physical contact to his child. When the stage of infancy is over, the cuddling and "gooey" physical contact should transfer into a more casual behavior for a boy than for a girl. For a boy, the contact should be diminished gradually, and as he becomes an older child, such affection in front of others should be almost eliminated. When our son, David, was a boy, I would poke him in the ribs, tassel his hair, slap him on the knee, pat him on the back, trip him as he walked down the hall, "accidentally on purpose" bump into him as we met, etc. In times of serious conversation, I would place my hand casually on his shoulder. This was not seemingly a planned kind of a thing as far as he was concerned. It was casual and apparently nonchalant.

As he became older, his needs for physical affection such as hugging and kissing lessened. However, he still needed physical contact. I turned to such methods as jostling, boxing, giving bear hugs, wrestling, etc. These physical contacts were never showy or obvious but were relaxed and natural.

For the daughters, the physical expressions were different. Of course, as infants there was the same type of "goochie-goo" that I gave to David. I would pat them on the cheek, touch them on the shoulder, lightly touch the hand, arm or shoulder. I might even place my arm around a daughter with a half joking little pull or jerk toward me. I might slip up behind one of the girls and put my hands over her eyes and say, "Guess who!" in a disguised voice. I would maybe casually hold her hand as we strolled down the sidewalk, and in more tender moments I would gently kiss her on the cheek with a soft, "I love you," whispered into her ear.

While a boy's desire for the affectionate type of physical contact lessens as he grows older, a girl's increases, and her need for tender affection is greater. Perhaps the boy's lessens because this type of expression is considered sissy or feminine. At gradually decreased my affectionate type of physical contact, while during the same years I increased this show of affection to the girls.

Bare in mind, I gave David this affection in abundance when he was an infant. It is sad but true that infant girls under the age of one receive much, much more affection than infant boys. This should not be the case. Maybe this accounts for the fact that many times more boys need psychiatric help than do girls.

The wise parent will use physical contact to express love to his small child. It must be noted, however, that this physical contact should decrease sharply as the child approaches adolescence in the case of mother to son and father to daughter.

3. Express your love with time. Each parent should spend time alone with each child. Children are important. Notice how Jesus regarded them in Mark 10:13-16. Notice how important children are in Psalm 127:3-5. Because each child is important, then each one should feel that he is a specially designed gift from God. He needs individual attention from the parent. Gifts, ice cream and candy, etc. will not take the place of time. It is very important that a child have definite personal attention given to him. Find time to be alone with him. Let this time be free from distractions. Let it be his time. Many times when the children were small, I made appointments with them. When others would seek my attention at that time, I would not grant it to them. I would say that I had an appointment. I realize that finding time to be alone with each child is difficult, but the good parent will find such time. This special treatment when parent and child are alone together giving their undivided attention to each other will be sacred. The child will never forget it as the memories grow sweeter with the passing of the years.

With our urban society, it is extremely difficult to give time to each child. We only have 7 days a week, 24 hours a day, and 60 minutes to the hour. This means that it is impossible for one to fulfill all of his obligations. Hence, it becomes a matter of priorities. This is where your child fits in. He must be given some time! It will not take a lot of time. It just takes a small amount of time which is all his. He must feel that there is nothing else you want to do, and he must feel that he is very special. It must be time spent with him alone. This is a critical need in the life of every child.

One of the dangers with the kind of relationships we are talking about is the possibility of developing a possessiveness which means the child is too dependent upon the parents. Before a child is born, he totally dependent upon his mother. When he is 4 and 5 years of age, he is 90% dependent. When he is 6 and 7 years of age, he is approximately 75% dependent. When he becomes 9-12 years of age, he is about 50% dependent. In his early teen years, he is about 25% dependent. When in high school he is about 10% dependent. Notice that he is gradually through the years becoming independent. Now while we are attempting to be close to him, we must of necessity realize that he is going through a process of leaving us. Hence, we must not smother the child, but we should give him some time that is all his.

Another danger with parents who spend time with their children is the danger of trying to live their lives through their children. In other words, the mother leads her daughter to do what the mother herself has always wanted to do or what she tried to do and failed to do. This often happens with the father. This is a form of over-possessiveness where the father identifies with the son or the mother identifies with the daughter in an effort for the child to succeed where the parent failed. This is very dangerous. The father could want to make his son perform athletic feats which he himself could not perform. The mother could wish to live vicariously through her daughter's educational life or even romantic life.

The wise parent will give the child some time that is his own, and when natural separation takes place, the parent may perform it graciously and admirably to the child's happiness with the new mate's gratitude, and the parent will have some justifiable feeling of accomplishment.

4. Love the reluctant child too. There are some children who resist receiving affection; that is, they resist the usual ways that parents give love. They would not like to be touched by the parent, they do not want individual attention from the parent, and they may reject verbal expressions of love. Usually they are not rejecting love; they actually WANT love but will not allow themselves to appear to like it. This child should be treated rather normally. However, since he feels uncomfortable in receiving love, or at least appears to do so, a gradual increasing in showing love is in order.

It is wise for parents not to demonstrate love at times when the child obviously prefers not to receive it. It may manifest itself when the parent is obviously planning to give affection. For example, suppose the parent has planned a time for being alone with the child and the child gets the idea that it is going to be a love-making time; he then builds up a resistance. Often a child refuses love when he is not well. This also is a time when he knows the parent is going to offer it. The child knows that it is the time to receive love. He knows that this is a good time for his parents to come to his rescue and demonstrate their affection. Now since these are usual times of expression, he openly rebels against them. He wants these tender moments to be spontaneous, unique to him. He may even feel that the parent feels obligated to show his love and that it is not sincere.

(All of us have a little bit of this resistance in us when it is the time expected for people to do something kind for us. Many of us would rather have attention for no seeming reason which comes because of spontaneity.)

To conquer this problem, the parent should try not to be predictable in showing his love. He must win the child's confidence by spontaneously at different times expressing love. Gradually, the child can become confident of the sincerity of his expressions. He will then accept affection at the traditional times also.

All children need these natural ways of receiving love. They need special attention, they need physical contact, they need to be loved when emotionally upset, when ill, when victorious, on their birthdays, at Christmastime, etc., but often they will not receive it because it is the time expected of parents to give it. Of course, a normal parent is going to want to show affection at the traditional times. This will develop later if the parent is patient by starting gradually with little surprising, spontaneous displays and gradually increasing until the child is happy to accept the parent's affection in its completeness.


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