Loving our kids in the best of times is not challenging but the reality is hard times will come. 8 Powerful Tips on How to Love Your Kids Even When It’s Hard
I sat exhausted at my dining room table taking a much needed break from our long homeschool day.
My boys walked out the front door dressed up in costumes. One child was a pirate, the other a soldier and the youngest was a mix of a pirate and doctor.
I was enjoying the silence even if it only lasted for a few minutes. I savored the quiet. Then I remembered my “Love Dare Parenting Challenge”. The assignment was to write them a note telling each child why I loved them.
It didn’t seem hard so I quickly jotted some heartfelt sentiments but then I got to one particular child and I was struggling. I was shocked that I couldn’t muster up anything nice to say to my son.
The tears fell onto my worn out table. Yes, we had a couple of rough weeks filled with whining, complaining and tantrums, but…
I’m his mom for goodness sake.
Why can’t I find a single kind thing to say to him?
In the meantime, said child with his pirate costume now covered in dirt came in screaming and whining about some thing.
I swallowed the tears but inside I felt awful. How did I get here? Can he see the struggle in our interactions? Does he pick up on my disappointment? Does he realize that I love him even when it’s hard?
The One Thing That Shifted In My Thinking
There is a difference between not loving our children and not loving their behavior. I can love them but disapprove of their behavior. When our child misbehaves it’s not him that I don’t love, it’s his actions.
Each child you bring into this world or into your home has their own little quirky personality and we won’t always click with those quirks. Our child’s differences are not always going to be ones we can relate to but we can still love our child and learn to work through those differences.
Yes, it’s very normal to get to a place of not liking who you’re child is becoming but that has nothing to do with you loving your child!
Remember we can love them but still feel frustrated with the whiny little voice that can say “mom, mom” 500 times in a row.
Yes, I love my son! I can wholeheartedly say, “I deeply love each one of my kids”. I know with out a shadow of a doubt that I would throw myself out in front of a moving train to save my child. But I have a hard time accepting that one minute he’ll eat cheese and in the next meal he hates it. Let’s not even begin discussing the whining.
Just because I labored for 24 hours, into all hours of the night and morning, doesn’t mean that I will automatically love and accept everything he does. I love him but not the behavior.
When you become a mom you love each of your children but we have to come to terms that some personalities and behaviors are harder to work with and we are at odds with the behavior not the child.
Finally, this clicked and my thinking shifted–
You are at odds with the behavior not the child.
So stop beating yourself up for hating the whining, the talking back, the tantrums, the dishonesty, the destructive behavior, the power struggles… It’s normal to not like this kind of behavior! Not approving this behavior in your child does not mean you hate your child.
A different question to ponder.
So the question no longer is, “How do I love my son when it’s hard?” because you know for a fact that you love him. Instead the question is, “How do I accept my son when it’s hard?”
We need to remember to separate the actions–from the child. When this all clicked in my mind, I was able to view my son through a different lens and how I interacted with him changed.
It was freeing!
Something else to consider?
Something else to consider is, loving them for who they are doesn’t meant you don’t address the behavior. You still lovingly hold them accountable and guide them.
I had to learn to love and accept my son just as he is so that he could accept himself. Once I accepted him just as he is I could move forward to lovingly guiding him to improve his behavior.
Let’s break it down
Accepting the whole person God has made my child to be–a non-conformist, is very different from disliking that he talks back all the time.
I can be at odds with him always talking back but I can come to terms and accept that God has given him a non-conformist personality. I need to come to accept the fact that he’s wired to be have an opinion about everything but I do not have to accept him talking back to me. Maybe you have a child who feels every emotion deeply and that is why he has such strong tantrums.
So you can accept your child’s personality when you say some thing like, “Joey feels every thing so deeply and that can be a strength. His compassion and desire to help others is beautiful. Now I need to help him manage and channel those emotions in healthy ways so he doesn’t have those explosive tantrums which can be very frustrating.” This statement reveals that you love your child and how God made him, but you don’t endorse his behavior.
Taking the example from above, when I said, “Joey feels every thing so deeply and there are many strengths in that such as…” here I am accepting how he was uniquely and wonderfully made–his whole being.
And when I said, ” I need to help him manage and channel those emotions in healthy ways so he doesn’t have those explosive tantrums.” here I am acknowledging that the tantrums are frustrating and I need to help him with his behavior. Not change who he is a child who feels deeply.
When we don’t separate our child’s actions from who they are, we will send the wrong messages to our children. Our kids will feel like we want to change them that we do not like them, not just how they behave.
I’m sure you now want to know–
How do I accept my child?
How do I reconcile the child I dreamed of having with the one I have?
8 Powerful Tips on How to Love Your Kids Even When It’s Hard
- Come to terms with… Come to terms with how your child is wired, his personality and his bent. Decide that today you’re going to strive to send messages that say, “I love you just as you are!”
- List it! Oh friends, I love lists! They help me with everything and as a counselor I constantly find myself asking clients to make lists. So, make a list of the positive traits you see in your child. This may be a hard task to do, just like it was for me writing that note to my son, but don’t let that stop you. When you think of a negative thing, find the positive. Think about your child’s character, values, actions that are positive.
- Soften. When our kids are doing something that is disappointing, frustrating, annoying or destructive our emotions begin to internally shift. Before it becomes an external response we need to soften our face and our response. I have to learn to soften the anger I’m feeling inside so the wrong messages are not reflected off my face like–You’re disappointing. You frustrate me. Not again, when are you going to learn. You can soften your face by taking deep breaths, think of something that makes you smile and smile. Remind yourself it’s not the end of the world.
- Look for the good! So now that you’ve made a list of positive traits you have to take it a step further and become a student of your child and look for the good that he is doing throughout the day. Find 3 things each day that are good. When my son is not in one of his moods he’s actually quite helpful. I have to stop and make a point to acknowledge it–I noticed you were helping your sister when she couldn’t figure out that game, thanks.
- Raise the praise! When you praise your child, don’t just say, “Good job!” You can find ways to make it more significant by praising something specific in their character. You can tack on to, “I noticed you were helping your sister when she couldn’t figure out that game, thanks.–I love your kind spirit.”
- Differentiate! We must differentiate between the behavior and the child! I want to mention this point again just in case you didn’t catch it above. It’s important that we see the difference between loving how God made my child vs accepting their behavior.
- Do an activity together. Figure out the ways your child wants to be loved and love them in that way. If they enjoy art then sit down and do an art project with them even if it’s not your thing.
- Say I Love you! Tell them often that you love and accept them. Our kids not only need to know but they need to hear from us that nothing they do can change your love for them. We should never withhold our love as a form of punishment. As a faith-filled person I often remind my kids that God loves them.
related: 3 Encouraging Things Our Kids Need to Hear
- Bonus tip–Connect before you Correct! It’s so important to try to find ways to empathize with your child before correcting and guiding. When my son is screaming at the top of his lungs because I told him to wear a jacket. My first reaction is to think–seriously dude! So I take a deep breath, I call him over and hug him, if he lets me. Then I say, “I know it’s hard to stay calm when you really don’t want to do something. It’s frustrating I’m sure.” Once he no longer is yelling I will say, “Next time you’re upset what can you do?” If he can’t come up with an idea, then I guide him.
It’s worth it!
It may come slow to mend a distant or broken connection with our child but the baby steps are worth it! As I am learning to differentiate between loving my son and accepting his misbehavior I am becoming more free to enjoy him more, parent him with less guilt and more positivity. I am learning to love and accept how my son is wired, he is also learning to love and accept himself. What could be better than that?