The Currency of Love
Recently I was talking to a parent, Joe, who was concerned about his spirited 9 year old, Sarah. She loves to debate with her parents—“Why should I put away my toys? No, I don’t want to stop playing with the phone!” She doesn’t usually respond to his first request. Her parents have to repeat themselves several times, and even then they get an argument! Sarah and her parents get into frequent power struggles. Guess who usually wins?
I was reminded about my youngest daughter, Naomi, who was a spirited child. Mary Lou Kurcinka wrote two great books about kids like her—“Kids, Parents and Power Struggles” and “Raising your Spirited Child”. Naomi was strong willed and persistent. She didn’t give up easily at all. And, I always felt that she didn’t really enjoy being a child, but would prefer adulthood. I was right! She seems much more comfortable in her adult shoes. As children we have little control over our environment. Some kids just don’t seem to be suited to that state of affairs.
As I listened to Joe’s description of Sarah, I also thought more about the ways in which we give (or don’t give) attention to our children. Naturally, children want parental attention, which is always in limited supply. When Sarah starts debating with her parents about the value of cleaning up after herself, her parents have stopped texting, looking at their Facebook page, or making dinner. They are completely focused, albeit negatively, on Sarah. When Sarah brings home a good report card, or an A paper she gets attention too! But this time, it is all smiles and “at a girl”.
For children, attention is the currency of love. When Sarah’s mom is yelling at her to stop annoying her sister—she yells back “Why do you hate me?” When her Dad is smiling and high fiving her when she scores a goal in soccer, she feels loved and appreciated by her father. For many children, negative attention is better than no attention at all. Some children seem like they can never get enough attention. They appear insatiable.
For adults it’s different. Love is a feeling that we have for someone else, and “loving attention” is how it is communicated. Negative attention or positive attention in the form of disapproval or praise is a reflection of whether we “like” or “appreciate” someone else’s behavior, not whether we love them. Children can’t make that distinction. This is why kids will say “I hate you!” when they really mean that they don’t like what you are doing. They don’t distinguish between “like” and “love”.
But don’t we all yearn for unconditional love? What is this kind of affection? This is the deep sense of love that is communicated to us, independent of our behavior in the moment. It is like being wrapped in a blanket of care and protection. Don’t we want our children to experience our unconditional love for them?
Find ways of giving your children loving attention for no reason at all. Of course, we are always on the lookout for an opportunity to tell our kids what a great job they are doing. So often, loving attention is given in response to some accomplishment or act. But how about looking at your child, and letting them know how much you love them and admire them for no reason at all, communicated independently of anything they are doing? Wow! Their faces will light up like a Christmas tree.
When you are home, deliver this kind of attention periodically throughout the day or weekend, so that it is just what it is---a reminder of what we feel but don’t always express enough.
This kind of unsolicited attention is the fuel for well-being, self-worth, and happiness. It is a true expression of the love and protection we feel for our family.
By the way, don’t stop with your children! Giving loving attention to your spouse, independent of what they do for you or your family, is deeply appreciated too!
What do you think?