North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service

How Do I Love Thee? Let Us Consider All The Ways

From the moment we find out a baby is on the way, we begin to think in terms of hopes and fears and love. It is love that carries us over the sleepless nights, temper tantrums, toilet learning accidents and mysteriously broken vases.

Loving a young child isn't always easy, but it's always necessary. Children thrive and succeed because they feel loved and cared for. How can we be sure our children are feeling loved and capable? Here are a few ideas:

Devoting Resources

Resources such as time, money and energy are ways to determine who or what a family's priorities are. Children quickly pick up on what is most valuable to their parents.

When a parent spends more time with television, outside activities or other people, family members can feel abandoned. One-on-one time with a caring parent is chosen most often by preschoolers as their favorite activity.

Money and material resources need to be distributed fairly (not necessarily evenly) to family members according to their needs (not their wants). We can begin to teach this lesson very early by treating everyone as individuals.

Two children are having a snack. Their parent counts out 10 raisins for each child and places them in front of the children. The older child quickly eats her raisins and asks for more. The second child has eaten only five raisins. The parent dutifully counts out five more for each. In the end, the hungry child goes away still hungry, needing more but tired of asking. The other child leaves, eight raisins still laying on the table.

This simplistic story illustrates the importance of giving to children according to their needs. It would have made more sense to ask each child, "How many raisins would you like? A few or a lot?" When everyone is satisfied that they are being treated in a unique way according to their needs, peace will prevail and everyone will feel valued.

There is another side of the money "coin." Making money consumes much of an adult's life. When adults say no to extra hours and weekend work projects, they are saying yes to family activities. The characteristics of a successful career and a happy family often disagree.

Parents of preschoolers often report that at the end of a busy day they are suffering from an energy shortage. "At-home" parents look forward to turning childcare responsibilities over to their working spouse at 5 p.m. Working parents, excited to see their children, have to work hard at re-energizing for the "second shift" -- parenthood and housework.

Energy is at a premium in every busy parent's life. Consider your goals for each of your energy-consuming activities. If you enjoy running to keep in good shape, choose a safe place to run and ride, and invite your preschooler to bike, trike or stroller along. If housework is zapping your energy, try teaching your children how to help. Prioritize what is most important, and work together to accomplish it. When you are finished, share the joy of a job well done and play something fun together.

When parents channel their last drop of energy for the day into reading a comforting storybook for bedtime instead of dusting or watching television, the child falls asleep reassured that he is important to his parents. When household income is dedicated to quality care and the child's needs are best met, children feel loved and secure.

Qualities Needed to 
to Succeed in 		  Qualities Needed to 
Chosen Career		  Meet Needs of Child
1. Long hours and one's   1. Time to be together as a
   best energy.		     family and energy for the 
			     hard tasks of parenting.
2. Mobility.		  2. Stability.
3. A prime commitment 	  3. Selflessness and a commitment
   to oneself.	 	     to others.
4. Efficiency.		  4. A tolerance for chaos.
5. A controlling 	  5. An ability to let go.
6. A drive for high 	  6. An acceptance of difference
   performance.	 	     and failure.
7. Orientation toward     7. Appreciation of the moment.
   the future.	
8. A goal-oriented, 	  8. An ability to tie the 
   time-pressured 	     same pair of shoelaces 
   approach to the task	     29 times with patience and  
   at hand.		     humor.
From When the Bough Breaks: The Cost of Neglecting Our 
Children. Sylvia Ann Hewlett. 1992. New York: Harper Perennial.

Setting Limits

Learning and growing are the most important jobs in the preschool years. Parents need to set a few simple rules and be consistent in making sure they are followed.

Adults who do these things show children that they are loved in a respectful learning way.

Communicating Love

Actions speak as lovingly as words. Everyone needs to hear and be shown that they are loved. Feelings of self-esteem can be greatly improved simply by really listening to the child and then recognizing his feelings. All feelings need to be accepted. Actions may need to be limited. Some examples might include, "I see you are really excited," "You need to sit on the couch" (for a child who is jumping on the couch) or "You feel angry, but people are not for hitting" (for a child who has hit out of anger).

Cuddling with a parent and a good book, quiet talks just before bed, hugs and kisses for no reason at all are the best gifts to give the children you love. Saying "I love you" never goes out of style and the color and fit are always perfect. Deliver this vital message in as many ways as you can think of. Write it in the snow, learn it in sign language, write it in symbols to go in a lunch box, tape record it on a secret message, frost it on a cookie, shout it in a crowd. However you choose to tell your family members you love them, do it now and often. It's a great habit to get into!

This newsletter is published for North Dakota families with preschoolers by the NDSU Extension Service and distributed through your county extension office. See your extension agent for more parenting information and other home economics programs.

Parenting Preschoolers, Issue No. 17

NDSU Extension Service, North Dakota State University of Agriculture and Applied Science, and U.S. Department of Agriculture cooperating. Sharon D. Anderson, Director, Fargo, North Dakota. Distributed in furtherance of the Acts of Congress of May 8 and June 30, 1914. We offer our programs and facilities to all persons regardless of race, color, national origin, religion, sex, disability, age, Vietnam era veterans status, or sexual orientation; and are an equal opportunity employer.
This publication will be made available in alternative format for people with disabilities upon request (701) 231-7881.

North Dakota State University
NDSU Extension Service