“The best advice I could give any parent would be to never pass up a chance to tell your kids that you love them. Touch them, cuddle and hug them often. Never part without saying ‘I love you.’”
—Andy Quinones, parent
February, that special month of valentines, love, affection, and caring, is tailor-made for parents of children. If you have children who have been adopted, it is even more special. All human beings want to feel special and loved by someone; for children, to know their parents love them is crucial for their attachment, sense of belonging, sense of identity, and self-esteem.
It is so very important that you say “I love you” to your children often and with feeling. You cannot rely on the fact that you told them that last month; you have to say it daily. Children thrive on hearing this directly from you and it has to be said unconditionally to have full impact. Never connect saying “I love you” to something they have done. You don’t want your children to think you love them only when they are behaving or acting in a certain way. You should never say “I love you but…” or “I love you when…” to your child. This is manipulative and confusing. Love is unconditional.
If it is difficult for you to say “I love you” or if you are away from your child temporarily, write it down. Children love to get notes of affection in their lunch boxes, cards in the mail, messages under their pillows, or even signs taped to their bedroom door. The sentiment is still special despite how it is delivered! Be creative!
For some children, especially teens, announcing “I love you” in front of their friends can sometimes be embarrassing for them, and maybe for you too. It could lead to them being made fun of by their peers or ostracized from their social group. Saying “I love you” is a personal exchange between two people so sometimes it is not best to say it to your child in certain situations. Know when it is and is not appropriate to say this out loud to your child.
Remember that saying “I love you” to your child is not the same as having loving feelings for them or doing loving things for them. Parents are expected to provide for their children, feed them and keep them safe. Sometimes parents may also give gifts or take their children to special events. This is not the same thing as actually telling your child that you love them. Whether an expectation of parenthood or an act of kindness, all children need to experience love in many ways, including actually being told by you that they are loved. Saying these words out loud is crucial.
Finally, don’t expect your child to respond back saying “I love you too” to you. Don’t assume this will happen. Say “I love you” because you truly want to, not because you are expecting a response. For some children, and more so for children who are adopted, saying this is very difficult for them. In the early adoption phase, they are still sorting out their feelings for their biological parents, previous caregivers and you, trying to assimilate their sense of belonging and feelings of “family”. They are still determining if you will be their parent for the long haul because other caregivers in their young lives have only been temporary. Your adopted child is also likely carefully guarding their feelings trying to determine if it is safe to show them to you. In adoption, a child loses all that is familiar to them–home, friends, belongings, biological relatives, sometimes even language and home country- so, their feelings and memories are all that they have. Is it no wonder why they would be so guarded about the few things they have left? Give them time to develop a sense of belonging and faith in your commitment to them. Then they will begin to feel comfortable enough to say “I love you” to you.
Saying “I love you” is powerful and positive. You have to “mean it”. You need to say it often to your children. The magical month of Valentines is a good time to practice saying it daily. Ready, set, go…..