“You don’t love me”. Did your child ever say this to you? He or she probably has at one point or another. Sometimes children say this to their parents when they are upset about something, sometimes in an effort to manipulate their parents into acceding to their wishes, and perhaps sometimes inexplicably out of the blue. What should be our response?
Years ago a student of mine told me that his mother doesn’t love him. This is how he truly felt. I knew this wasn’t the case, but felt the child’s feelings needed to be addressed. So I called a meeting with the teenager and his parents. I cajoled the boy to share his feelings so the mother would hear it from his mouth, not mine. The mother understandably hurt and taken aback said, “Why do you say that? I do so much for you”.
I told the mother that rather than illustrate why your son is wrong for feeling this way, just tell him right now that you do love him. The mother simply said with meaning, “I love you” and the son indeed was comforted by her words.
There are many lessons here. First and foremost, we need to clearly express our love for our children not only with actions, but with direct words. Kids consistently need to hear “I love you” from their parents. But what we would like to discuss here, is the art of proper communication and response to our children’s complaints. Instead of looking to disprove their words and negate their feelings, we should be looking to understand where they are coming from and do whatever we can to change that going forward. Rather than running to defend ourselves, we need to look how we can better the situation.
When our child says, “You don’t love me”, the first response should be, “Yes, I do love you.” Afterwards, where the situation calls for it, we should ask him why he feels this way. Only after understanding where he is coming from should we then explain things from our vantage point and why he is mistaken.
One of the most common reasons for dysfunctional parent/child relationship is the child feeling that his voice is not heard. He complains about something and is quickly dismissed. This can happen from a very young age and we are unaware of what transpired and the damage done. For example, the child is complaining about his school and the parents says, “Stop complaining. It’s a nice school. You have lots of friends. Nothing is going to be perfect.” The parents perhaps worry that if they acknowledge the child’s feelings it will embolden his negativity. Somehow by dismissing it as nothing the problem will minimize in the child’s eyes. This is just not the case.
The child needs the attentive ear and empathetic heart of his parents. Only after they commiserate in his pain, should they look to teach their child coping skills and a more positive vantage point.
In order to develop the close relationship with our children that they so desperately need today, we need to be attuned to their feelings and what they have to say. Be”H through improving our communication with them, we will be able to be give them the love and support they need to thrive.
Teaser: The parents perhaps worry that if they acknowledge the child’s feelings it will embolden his negativity.