Unconditional love is the way you show your child that they are loved no matter what faults they have.

You know that you love your child, even when they are badly behaved, but children don’t always understand that. When you get cross or angry – or shout at or punish them, your child feels ‘flawed’ which leads to a low self-esteem and a feeling that they are not worth being loved.

Of course, children will misbehave sometimes and do the wrong thing – that’s normal! However, if your child behaves badly, it is really important for their well-being and self-confidence that they know they are still loved and valued.

It’s hard to give your child something you weren’t given as a child. If you didn’t experience unconditional love growing up, you may need to start off by giving yourself that love and acceptance. You can start off by appreciating yourself and acknowledging your own good points. And forgive yourself even though you’ve got your faults.

If what you say to yourself is often critical or negative, start to notice what you say, and each time you catch yourself being harsh or unforgiving – in your head or out loud – counteract it by saying something kinder or more understanding. Perhaps talk about your mistakes the way your best friend would. Or say the mantra in your head ‘I am good enough.’

So how can you show your child unconditional love?

  1. Tell your child everything you love about them: their appearance, their personality, their behaviour, their characteristics, their inventiveness, their creativity, their enthusiasm, their sense of humour – anything that shows you’ve noticed THEM, what they’re like, and what makes them special.
  2. Put a positive spin on your child’s traits. If your child is stubborn you can tell them: ‘you are going to be a real achiever in life- you just don’t give up.’
    ‘I think when you’re older you could be a great scientist, you love finding out about things and really trying to understand how they work.’
    ‘I get the feeling that you’ll be a good leader when you’re older- you have so many good ideas about what to play and how to make a good game.’
  3. Tell your child you love them, warts and all. Make sure your child knows, it doesn’t matter what they achieve in a test, what they decide to do in life – their career. It doesn’t matter whether you’ve had an argument, or whether they behave badly. Your child knows they’re not perfect. They need to know you always love them, just as they are. That they don’t have to BE anything or DO anything to be lovable.
    Help them understand that even when they make a mistake, they’re still loveable and loved in your eyes. After all, you wouldn’t want your child to believe that if they do something wrong, they’re not worthy of being loved, would you?
  4. Reflect back your child’s good points. Everyone wants to be appreciated or validated – including your child. What you say to your child will eventually become your child’s inner voice. If you tell your chid that they’re lazy, stupid, selfish or thoughtless, they’ll eventually accept it. After all, they’ve been told often enough! It’s called a self-fulfilling prophecy.
    Remember you are a mirror for your child. They can only see themselves through the image you reflect back at them. That’s how they know how much they’re valued and appreciated. So it’s important to make sure that reflection is a good one! Reflect back your child’s strengths and qualities.
    A great way to see what the mirror shows is to ask yourself, do your eyes light up when your child walks into the room? Does your face show that you’re glad to see them?
  5. Stop punishing your child. When your child misbehaves, if you shout at them, send them to Time Out, threaten or even hurt them, you damage your connection with your child. Your child feels you are intentionally causing them pain. When you can stay calm, yet firm, and use positive discipline techniques, you show your child that there are boundaries to their behaviour, but that you will help them learn self-control, and be alongside them, rather than withdrawing your love because they made a mistake.
  6. Show your love by really listening when your child talks to you, by playing with them, by sending little notes in their lunchboxes, by hugs and kisses, by saying ‘I love you,’ by asking about their friends, by spending at least 15 minutes a day one-to-one time with them, by having fun together – all the little thing that show you care for them and want to spend time with them. These daily tiny actions and kindnesses give your child the message that they’re worth your consideration and time, and help your child feel truly loved.
child behavioural expert
The author:

Elizabeth O’Shea is a parenting specialist child behaviour expert and one of the leading parenting experts in the UK.

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