Conversation

Showing the love to older children and teenagers

Showing your children how much you love them is one of the most important things you can do as a parent, signalling to children that they matter and they’re valued for who they are.

“Showing your child love is crucial for their development,” says Michelle Dougan, assistant director of Children’s Services at Barnardo’s. “I would want every child to have complete faith they are loved.”

Michelle speaks from 32 years professional and personal experience, as a mum of three, stepmother to three teenagers and a recent grandmother. She continues: “Love makes such a strong foundation for life – a child who feels loved and valued will grow up with emotional resilience. Unconditional love gives a child confidence for the challenges ahead.  When you create that secure base and firm bond, you’re building a foundation for their emotional and mental wellbeing into adulthood.”

Children also need to feel valued for themselves, that their parents enjoy their company, respond to their feelings and moods and actively listen and talk to them. Even when your child starts to pull away from you, you’ll have built up a base of love and affection they can come back to whenever they want.

  • “They may shrug off a hug (especially in front of their friends) but you can still show your love by sharing a laugh and a joke. I have a secret code with my 18-year-old son on notes we leave for each other – LYTM+B (love you to the moon and back).
  • “Boundaries make children feel secure and loved. By retaining rules, even when they may be trying to rebel, you’re showing your love and you don’t bend for the sake of an easy life. Keep firm and consistent but balance that with warmth and love.”
  • “Keep talking. Ask how their day went, even if you only get a grunt or ‘fine’ as a reply. Know their friends’ names and have an interest in the TV programmes and music they like.
  • “Every night, say ‘good night, I love you’. Vocalising love is important, even simply saying ‘take care, be safe’ when they leave the house.”

It’s important to make a distinction between your love for them, which is unfailing, constant and unconditional, and your pride or disappointment in their achievements, failures or behaviour.

Other ways you can show your unconditional love include…

  • Ruffling their hair, telling them you love them at random times and rough housing.
  • Giving them your total focussed attention. Put down the phone.
  • When their behaviour disappoints you, say: ‘I love you but I don’t like it when you… or ‘it makes me feel unhappy when’.  This phrasing removes blame and focuses on the behaviour, not the child.
  • Giving them a hug after an argument can be a very powerful shorthand to saying ‘I love you’ no matter what.
  • If your child isn’t a great hugger, you’ll always find other ways to show their importance to you – a calming hand on their head, a smile, catching their eye and pulling a silly face.