Five Ways to Talk to Kids So They Feel Loved

Both parents and teachers could use common language and communication patterns to reinforce nurturing messages for students

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Five Ways to Talk with Your Kids So They Feel Loved

These warm, nurturing messages need repeating over and over again with our children.


1. You are loved for who you are and who you will become

“I don’t like it when you hit your brother, but I still love you.”

“You used to love this song, but you don’t anymore. It’s fun to see how who you are and what you like changes as you get older!”

Letting the children in your life know that they are loved for who they are now and who they will become helps create a trusting relationship, also called a secure attachment. Build your relationship by spending dedicated time with your child doing something they choose, paying attention to their likes and interests. During these moments, put aside other distractions, including household chores and electronic devices. It can be tempting (and sometimes necessary) to multitask, but it is also important to show your child that you are focused on them.

Children who have secure attachments tend to have higher self-esteem and better self-control, stronger critical thinking skills, and better academic performance than children who don’t. They’re also more likely to have stronger social skills than their peers, as well as greater empathy and compassion.

2. Your feelings help your parents and caregivers know what you need

“I hear you crying and I wonder what you are asking for right now. I’m going to try holding you in a different way to see if that helps.”

“When I’m sleepy, I get pretty cranky. I’m wondering if you are feeling sleepy right now.”

Although you might prefer it when your child is in a good mood (when they are easy to get along with and fun to be around), children have unpleasant feelings like sadness, disappointment, frustration, anger, and fear, too. These feelings are often expressed through crying, temper tantrums, and challenging behaviors. Our feelings serve a purpose and let us know when a child needs something. By paying attention to a child’s feelings, we show them that how they feel matters to us and that they can count on us to do our best to address their needs.

When your child’s feelings challenge you, ask yourself:

  • Are the expectations I have for my child reasonable and realistic?
  • Have I taught my child what to do and not just what not to do? If not, what skills need more practice?
  • How are my child’s feelings affecting them right now? Even if I think they should know this skill, is my child too upset or tired to think clearly?
  • How are my feelings affecting the way I respond to my child?

3. There are different ways to express your feelings

“It’s okay to feel frustrated, but I don’t like it when you scream like that. You can use words and say, ‘I’m frustrated!’ You can show your feelings by stomping your feet over here or squeezing this pillow instead.”

“Sometimes when I’m sad, I like to tell someone how I feel and have a hug. Other times I want to sit quietly by myself for a while. What do you think would help you right now?”

It’s helpful for an infant to cry and scream when they are hurt or upset, but as children get older, we don’t want them to express their feelings in this way anymore. As children’s brains mature and their vocabulary grows, they play a more active role in choosing how to express their feelings.

Talk with your child about your family’s emotion rules. How do you want the children and adults in your family to show different emotions when they arise? You can also use storybooks to help your child see that everyone has feelings. Reading together offers a chance to talk about the challenging feelings that different characters have and to practice problem solving outside of emotionally charged moments.

Teaching children how to express their emotions in new ways takes time, practice, role modeling, and lots of repetition.

4. Everyone is a learner and making mistakes is part of learning

“You tied your shoe! It was really hard at first, but you kept working on it and now you learned to do it all by yourself!”

“Sometimes I get frustrated when I can’t do something on the first try. I have to remind myself that learning something new takes practice. Have you ever had to practice something to learn how to do it?”

Through conversations, parents impact how children learn as well as what children learn. When children struggle to do something, this can feel frustrating, which may lead to them trying harder or giving up. Parents can help children turn challenging moments into learning opportunities by highlighting their effort and sharing the message that learning something new takes time, problem solving, perseverance, and patience. Children with this mindset tend to outperform those who believe that their abilities must come naturally (i.e., either they have it or they don’t).

5. Your parents and caregivers are trying to be the best parents they can be

“I’m not sure what to do right now, but I’m trying my best to listen and figure out what you need.”

“I’m sorry that I yelled at you earlier. I shouldn’t have done that. Maybe we could talk together about what we could do differently tomorrow to help our morning go more smoothly.”

Imagine your child as a teenager coming to you and saying, “I was thinking about last night. When I got mad and yelled, I shouldn’t have done that. I’m really sorry. I was so upset when you wouldn’t let me take the car that I just lost it.” Teenagers (or children) don’t become comfortable sharing and reflecting on their words and behaviors overnight, but role modeling from the important adults in their lives can help them learn.

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Photo of Catherine Goodheart

Wow, Paul! This article is spot on for building trust through communication. I couldn't help but think of my own children as I read through your idea. It would be amazing to have a wrap-around support network of educators, families, and children all using this approach.