February is the ‘heart’ month. It’s the home of Valentine’s Day, and it’s National Heart Health Month. But, having a healthy heart is so much more than cute cards and physical fitness. It is also about ‘having heart’, which means feeling and expressing love for others and for oneself. As we travel through our hectic lives, it can be easy to forget the importance of love, but the truth is that during these uncertain times, kids need to be able to feel and express love more than ever before because it will keep them feeling safe and secure.
Happily, it’s not too difficult to ensure that your child’s capacity for love continues to grow:
- Teach by example. When you openly and frequently express love to your child and to other meaningful people in your life, it teaches your child that this is important and normal. Say the words “I love you”, give hugs and kisses, and snuggle on the couch as often as possible. Children continue to learn from their parents through their teen years and into early adulthood, so don’t stop loving and teaching. Your teenager is not too old to hug and kiss!
- Encourage sharing (of feelings). When your child tells you about a friend who stuck up for her, didn’t leave her out, shared her lunch, gave her a hug or was a good friend in any other way, encourage your child to tell her friend how good that made her feel and how much she values the friendship.
- Support sibling love. Siblings often spend at least some of their time arguing. However, when you look closely, there are probably also many sweet moments of sharing, helping and allegiance between them. You can encourage siblings to share positive feelings towards each other by pointing out these positive moments and telling them that these expressions of brotherly and sisterly support and love really make you feel proud of them. Then, during less pleasant sibling moments, you can remind them of the positive part of their relationship in order to lessen the momentary anger between them.
- Support equal opportunity for boys. In many ways, boys have been socialized to keep their feelings to themselves, even though this is no healthier for them than it is for girls. In particular, many boys are afraid to express positive feelings for fear that it may make them seem to ‘girly’. We need to help boys shift from this old-fashioned way of thinking, and teach them that friends, siblings, parents and grandparents will feel good when they share positive feelings and behaviors. What’s more, expressing love, appreciation and other positive feelings will also help your son. He will feel positive knowing that his expressions of love have brought good feelings to his friends and family.
- Self-love is most important. In order to have the emotional capacity to love others, you first need to love yourself. Every child, no matter how confident, can benefit from encouragement to be proud of her accomplishments and feel positive about her strengths. Your child may also need to be reminded that loving yourself means accepting that you are not perfect. When necessary, you remind your child that she is still lovable, even if she does not have the exact body, brain or lifestyle she desires. Help her focus on the positive aspects of herself, so that self-love is easy, rather than a burden. Also, remember to love yourself (despite your imperfections) so your child can see that you really mean it!
Dr. Susan Bartell is America’s #1 Family Psychologist. Her latest book is The Top 50 Questions Kids Ask. You can learn more about her at www.drsusanbartell.com