Teaching a Child to be a Loving Human Being; Refueling Ourselves as Parents
Dec 25, 1995
How do you teach a child to be a loving human being?
S.P., from Virginia
If it was so simple to teach children about true love, the world would have fewer problems, wouldn't it? I like this type of question, because I think that if parents and adults discussed this topic more, among themselves, and in the public forum, we would make more progress than we've made so far.
I would divide this teaching job into four parts: experience, example, concept and practice. To teach our children how to love others requires that they first be loved themselves. Love goes beyond intellect, and has to be felt and experienced. From the earliest possible moment, the child needs to be loved by his parents to such a degree that he finds love more attractive than anything else. Integral to love is the fact that love exists in a relationship to someone else. We don't buy love at the store as a shapeless mass -- love is felt when one person cares for another. This requires commitment on the part of the parent -- a commitment to care for the child forever.
After loving the child directly, the parent then needs to show the child how wonderful and joyful it is to love others -- both family members and people outside the family. The child needs to see that the parent is genuinely loving people with an unselfish and unconditional love. The parent can tell the child, "See, when Mr. Smith came over, and he was depressed, we served him coffee; we listened sympathetically; we even gave him a gift to express our love for him. Did you notice how happy he became?" The child will nod, and say, "Ah haaah."
For the child to understand the concept of love requires the parent to speak to the child about love and heart and caring for others. It requires the parent to delve into the "internal world of heart" that so often is shunted aside in favor of more casual topics. I think western fathers, especially, find it difficult to talk about emotional or "heartistic" topics. Children are very open-hearted, though, and don't find it at all embarrassing to talk about love and heart. It certainly doesn't have to be couched in a "mushy" way, either.
In essence, to me, love means taking care of the joys and sorrows of others. It's natural, straightforward, dignified yet simple, inspiring, refreshing, and very, very strong. If we actively talk to our children about love, they will become comfortable with the topic and consider it the most normal thing to talk about in the world.
Finally, the children need to practice loving others on a daily basis. They need to be shown why their actions hurt others -- and then be encouraged to redeem themselves with the other person. They need to be shown also how much their love for another has made that person happy. With encouragment and constant guidance, I believe that our children can be raised to "never make people sad, but always make people happy" (which is what I tell my children is "the rule of heart".)
When I am running on empty, how do I refuel my body and soul for my family and for myself?
Worn Out Mom
DEAR WORN OUT:
Amidst the clutter of diapers and toys and general havoc that often take place in a family, the mom can feel like she's reached the end of her rope. I know -- my wife delicately informed me of this many times.
"I haven't talked to an adult all day -- I'm using one syllable words so much that I don't even know if I can converse anymore," was a refrain that I heard more than once.
Everyone is different, but I think that one key ingredient is taking time to be alone, so that you can think and reflect about life, the meaning of it all, and what makes you inspired about being alive. I like to go look at sunsets or sit by the ocean. The ocean especially soothes my soul to the core. I can breathe and think, and remember once again that God exists and true love is the most wonderful thing in the whole world. Praying by the ocean has a special feeling for me.
Whatever external method you use, take the time to connect yourself once again to your purpose in life, so that you can revive yourself from the inside out, with the power of your own heart and vision of life.
Peter Falkenberg Brown is passionate about writing, publishing, public speaking and film. He hopes that someday he can live up to his favorite motto: “Expressing God’s kind and compassionate love in all directions, every second of every day, creates an infinitely expanding sphere of heart.”