Making Children Feel Loved and Accepted
Seven suggestions for parents on one of their most important responsibilities.
Posted Feb 14, 2021
One of parents’ most important responsibilities is to make their children feel loved and accepted. Children who feel loved and accepted by their parents have better relationships not only with their family but also with peers. In contrast, children who feel rejected by their parents have worse social, emotional, and behavioral adjustment, even into adulthood.
Although making their children feel loved and accepted is important for parents around the world, the ways in which parents convey their love and acceptance differ. For example, in some cultural groups, it is common for parents to show love physically (e.g., hugging or kissing) or to express love verbally (e.g., saying “I love you”). In other cultural groups, physical and verbal expressions of love are less common, but parents express love in other ways, such as by preparing special foods or supporting children’s education or other daily activities.
Consider the following ways that parents in many cultural groups can make children feel loved and accepted:
1. Saying nice things about the child, either to the child or to others in the child’s presence so the child can hear (“You should have seen how kind she was to her younger brother today!”).
2. Making it easy for the child to confide in the parent. Parents can do this by being non-judgmental, which is especially important during adolescence. Adolescents are more likely to share information voluntarily with parents if they believe their disclosure will be met with support rather than criticism.
3. Showing an interest in the child’s activities. Parents can attend children’s athletic events, musical performances, art shows, and school activities to express genuine interest in what is important to their children. Getting to know children’s friends and asking children to explain other activities they like to do (e.g., how to play a favorite video game) are other ways parents can show interest.
4. Listening to the child’s thoughts and feelings. When parents listen to the child, they demonstrate that they care what the child thinks. If possible, take the child’s thoughts and feelings into account when making decisions that affect the child’s life.
5. Treating the child gently rather than harshly. Yelling and hitting make children feel unloved and should be avoided.
6. Responding to the child’s needs. How to respond will depend on the child’s developmental stage. For example, responsiveness may involve comforting a crying infant or may involve giving an adolescent striving for autonomy more freedom. The challenge for parents is to be sensitive to understanding what their child needs at a particular point in time and responding accordingly.
7. Remembering commitments to the child. If parents promise a treat for good behavior or say that they will do something for the child, it is important to follow through on the promise. When parents remember to do things they say they’ll do for a child, it builds trust in the relationship.
Exactly how parents demonstrate love is less important than children’s understanding that they are loved and accepted. Children’s perceptions of their parents’ behavior are shaped by the cultural context in which they live. If parents behave in a way that is consistent with norms and expectations in their cultural group, children generally respond more favorably to that behavior. So, if certain ways of demonstrating love are common in a particular cultural group, parents can increase the chances of their children feeling loved and accepted if they engage in those culturally accepted practices.
Making children feel loved and accepted is one of parents’ most important responsibilities. Fortunately, there are many ways for parents to express love and acceptance to their children.