LOVE is an action word

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In How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children, Dr. Gerald Newmark defines the five critical emotional needs of children – and parents, too – as:

    The need to feel INCLUDED
    The need to feel RESPECTED
    The need to feel IMPORTANT
    The need to feel ACCEPTED
    The need to feel SECURE

Perhaps you have asked yourself, “What about love? Why hasn’t love been included as one of the five critical needs of children?” It was omitted purposefully, not because it lacks importance—on the contrary, it is extremely important—but rather because the word “love” has lost some of its force and meaning through overuse and misuse.

In many cases, saying the words “I love you” has become trite, meaningless, or confusing. In a scene from the movie Nuts, a conversation takes place between a mother and her estranged daughter: The mother says to the daughter, “You know we love you sweetheart, don’t you? Didn’t we always tell you we loved you?” To which the daughter replies angrily, “Love? What do you know about love? You told me you loved me, but you never showed me you did.” Yes, there is a difference.

There are parents who abuse or neglect their children and then say, “I love you,” thinking it makes up for their behavior. Too often, love is equated with saying “I love you.” If saying “I love you” were enough, we might not have such a high divorce rate. Marriages don’t break up because a spouse stops saying “I love you.” They break up because spouses quit treating each other in a loving way.

Most parents love their children or so we assume. However, we cannot assume from this that most parents act in a loving way. Dr. Newmark’s answer to “What about love?” is that loving your child is essential and saying “I love you” is important, but neither is sufficient unless you act in a loving way. That is why he defines “acting in a loving way” as relating to children in ways that make the child feel respected, important, accepted, included, and secure—that’s the best way to say, “I love you.”

Our book How to Raise Emotionally Healthy Children is available from Amazon in paperback and Kindle ebook in both English and Spanish.

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