10 Ways to Love the One You’re With

Photography: Polina Downar Photography

By Dr. Laura Markham

“Try to see your child as a seed that came in a packet without a label. Your job is to provide the right environment and nutrients and to pull the weeds. You can’t decide what kind of flower you’ll get or in which season it will bloom.” — Anonymous 

If you’re like most parents, there are times when you’d like to submit your child to “Extreme Child Makeover.” (That’s a reality show playing in a living room near you.) 

Maybe you’re mortified about the way he clobbers the other kids in your pod. Maybe she shrieks when you try to shampoo her hair, or wakes you all night long. Maybe you just always wanted a girl and you were blessed with two raucous boys. 

Let’s remind ourselves of one thing we know for certain about child development. Children who feel loved and cherished thrive.  

That doesn’t mean kids who ARE loved. Plenty of kids whose parents love them don’t thrive. The kids who thrive are the ones who FEEL loved, accepted and cherished for exactly who they are.  

Let’s remind ourselves of one thing we know for certain about child development. Children who feel loved and cherished thrive.

The hard work for us as parents is accepting who our child is, including the things we wish we could change – and cherishing him or her for being that person, even while guiding their behaviour. No, it’s not impossible. Here’s how. 

1. Take time to delight in your child. The most important factor in your child’s development may well be your delight in them. Children need to know that they inspire their parents to love caring for them. Be sure you tell your child daily how lucky you are that you get to be their parent, and that you could never love anyone else more than you love them. 

2. Really notice your child — aloud — so they feel seen: “You’ve been working for a long time on that tower”, “You love being in the water”, “That makes you so mad!”.  The point isn’t to evaluate their behaviour, but to let them know that you see and accept who they actually are, by acknowledging what they do and how they react to the world. 

3. Use a positive lens. When something about your child’s behaviour makes you unhappy, remember that weaknesses are always the flip side of that person’s strengths. If she has trouble controlling her anger when her brother disrespects her, is she a passionate fighter against injustice? Is his dawdling a sign of the imagination that will someday make him a great novelist?  

If she has trouble controlling her anger when her brother disrespects her, is she a passionate fighter against injustice? Is his dawdling a sign of the imagination that will someday make him a great novelist?  

4. See things from his perspective. Maybe his behaviour is irritating to you, but it’s always understandable if you take the time to see his viewpoint. OK, so he hit the baby. Do whatever you need to, to prevent a recurrence, including not leaving them unsupervised. And of course promote repair — “The baby was frightened when you hurt him. I wonder what you could do now to make things better with him?” 

But punishing him won’t help, because that will just exacerbate the terror of losing you that drove him to act so aggressively. You did get a replacement child, after all. He can be forgiven for wondering if he’s lost his place in your heart. If you can connect deeply with him so that he feels your love is indestructible, his terror of losing you will diminish, and his love for the baby will have a chance to bloom.  

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