Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Winning Families: Cupid's Valentine's Day Message to Parents

Cupid's Valentine's Day Message to Parents:  L.O.V.E.
Gary M. Unruh MSW LCSW

Parents are constantly under the microscope. Whether they're being compared to Chinese mothers, or childless Aunt Susie is giving her two cents' worth of parenting advice, parents are all too often left shaking their heads in aggravation. "Isn't there a simpler, less frustrating way to raise my child?"

Yes, and it's called fully developed parental love -- the age-old Valentine's message shined up for twenty-first-century frustrated parents. After counseling over 2,500 children and parenting four of my own, it has become clear to me that tapping in to love's transforming power is the only way to go. Love covers all the essential parenting requirements:  L for Limit-setting, O for Openly communicating, V for Valuing, and E for Empathizing. One thing is certain: the more humans feel loved, the more they fully live life.

Here is a quick look at what fully developed parental love looks like.

L is for Limit-setting. Whoever invented the word love knew that the first letter needed to stand for limit-setting. Children are not born demonstrating good conduct; they need to learn acceptable behavior. Parents train their children best using two limit-setting activities: teaching good behavior and teaching a child how to stick with something until it is done (hard work pays off). Children need to learn the benefits of hard work, like giving up a fun weekend with friends to get a project done well. The right mix of fun and games with hard work will result in a responsible, resilient child.

O is for Open Communication. One of the most important needs of a child, or anybody for that matter, is to feel understood. That requires open communication. When a three-year-old hits his sister, the natural parental response is to yell and send him to his room. With open communication, understanding is the first step. Parents achieve this by calmly asking the child what made him so upset, then listening -- with no "buts." When children feel understood, they become more comfortable with themselves, more self-assured. Then, after understanding, the L comes back around -- limit-setting consistently.

V is for Valuing. At the heart of love is the letter V for valuing and validating. The need to feel valued is as important for children as their need for food. Telling children what they did right every day builds self-confidence. Children feel most valued when parents validate their feelings, especially during conflict. When Jared whines about chores, validate his frustration with "You are really frustrated and it's no fun to pick up," and then firmly set limits. He can stop whining and pick up his mess, or go to his room. A valued child is a child who wants to learn good behavior.

E is for Empathy. The learned ability to stand in another person's shoes ensures less risk for physical health problems and develops kindness, compassion, and quality intimacy. That's what happens when parents are successful in teaching their children all aspects of love, especially the valuing component. When children feel valued from the get-go, they know firsthand all about empathy. Over and over again I've seen these children become very empathetic individuals. The most gratifying success in life is enduring, close relationships -- one of the best results of developing empathy in our children.

Conclusion: When parents fully unleash their love, they can expect to raise responsible, loving, resilient children. Thank you, Cupid, for Valentine's Day -- a day devoted to experiencing the transforming power of love.

Gary M. Unruh, MSW LCSW, is a child and family mental health counselor with nearly forty years of experience. He is the author of the 2010 award-winning book Unleashing the Power of Parental Love: 4 Steps to Raising Joyful and Self-Confident Kids (www.unleashingparentallove.com).
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