One of the questions I ask in parenting presentations is "How do you show your children you love them?"
Participants usually cite verbal and physical ways of showing affection as the most common means of showing love. These ways work well for children of certain age groups and children with those relational preferences, but how do you relate to a child or young person who becomes a 'conversational clam' or one who doesn't like physical closeness?
Conversely, it is easy to miss the relational signs of children if their ways of relating fit outside our frame of reference. I remember Michael, behaviourally the most challenging child that I taught, would meet me in the car park each morning and carry my bag to the staffroom door. He would bid me farewell and we would spend most of our contact time jousting with each other. The bag-carrying was just Michael's way of saying that he liked me. His relational preference was through acts of service, which is similar to mine so we were on the same wavelength.
According to Gary Chapman author of Five Languages of Children there are five different ways to develop a connection (show them you love them) with children. As you read them consider your preference and the preferences of children in your family or immediate confines:
1. Acts of affirmation, praise and recognition
The best way to develop a relationship with some children is through your praise, affirmation and recognition. Let them know they are wonderful, that their efforts at home hit the mark and their behaviour is appreciated and they will know you think the world of them. This is obviously easy for some children who naturally do well or behave appropriately but what of those children who are NOT 'affirmation magnets'? We need to try something else?
2. Acts of service and shared activity
Some children just want to share an activity with you. When you come home from work they may pester you for a game or want to join you in whatever you are doing. As toddlers these children want to be attached to their mum and dad's hips as they go about their usual business. You cook, they want to cook. You mow the lawn they want to join you. These children will often do things for you to show they care so they do special jobs 'just for you' (particularly when they have been less than perfect) or want you to join them in an activity or a game. As teenagers they may share an interest such as sport with a parent rather than participating together in an activity itself. These children also love to have their parents to themselves for a time.
3. Talking and attention
Some children just love to talk or be the centre of attention. They love one-on-one time but they can rattle on forever rather than actually engage in an activity with a parent. Far from being 'conversational clams' these children usually don't mind telling you about their day or about any social problems they may be having. They also like to hear about your personal life or how you may have handled the highs and lows of life. Yes, they can close up during adolescence but you may just have to find the right forum such as a car or coffee shop for them to talk. Parents who travel a great deal can stay in touch with these children through the internet or via the telephone. In many ways these 'talkers' provide easy access for relationships as long as we make the effort.
4. Gifts and mementoes
Some children like more tangible evidence of your regard so small mementoes or gifts are the way to their hearts. I am not talking big expense here but these 'tangibles' love their parents to bring something home from work (a pad, pen or poster can work wonders) or a little treat every now and then. Some teenage 'tangibles' can be quite demanding on their parents financially as they may ask for big ticket fashion items but remember that it is the thought not the item that counts with this group.
5. Physical closeness and affection
Some children just can't get close enough to their parents. As young children they love to be picked up and toddlers can give parents little space. Cuddles on the couch and physical play are de rigeur for these kinaesthetic types. Some older boys love to skylark and play very physical games with their fathers, which can be their way of saying, "You're OK." So you need to go along with these affectionate types and realise a touch on the shoulder or a hand on the arm can be more potent than words of praise. This can be challenging if you are physically reserved yourself or your children move into adolescence and you feel awkward about giving them a hug. Sometimes a squeeze on the arm or a quick rub of a teen's back as you greet them is a powerful reminder that you love them.
Most children will have a preference for two of the above methods just as most parents will have one or two preferred ways of relating to others. If you love to chat then holding conversations with like-minded children will be a breeze but how will you relate to those children who prefer more physical ways or even a memento?
If you are frustrated and think that you just can't get through to your child it may be worth checking the way you relate. If talking doesn't work then maybe try a little memento from time to time or suggest a game, a cup of coffee together or just a story. To steal a line from an 80's American sitcom ? 'Different strokes for different young folks.'
Michael Grose is a leading parenting educator and specialises in healping busy parents raise confident kids and resilient young people.
He is the author of six books and over 300 columns in magazines and newspapers across three contintents. He also gives over 100 presentations a year.
For more great ideas to help you raise fantastic kids that other people rave about and really love the job of parenting visit http://www.parentingideas.com.au . While you are there subscribe to Happy Kids, Michael's free email newsletter and receive a free report Seven ways to beat sibling rivalry