I think most of us would agree that all people need love.
Love is an essential part of growing and developing as a human being. God did not create mankind to live void of emotion and relationship; these things are indispensable, especially when parenting adopted children. Adoption begins a lifelong process of attachment and bonding and it includes showing love and affection to your child over their lifetime. In light of the approaching holidays, while love is on the mind, I want to give you 5 practical ways to show love to your children. Each of these love language needs are important, but consider if your child has one or two that are especially important to them; if so, remember to prioritize those as you show love to him or her.
1. Words of Affirmation
Words of affirmation are crucial to incorporate on a daily basis with your child. Words of affirmation will be extremely helpful as you bond and attach with your child. There are 3 different ways to use words of affirmation with your child. First, there are words of praise. Look for actions or accomplishments that warrant praise, and verbally give your child that praise. Things like “you did a great job!” or “thank you for listening so well to Mommy and Daddy”. I would also suggest being specific with your words of praise. For example, “thank you for washing off your plate and putting it in the dishwasher” or “you did a great job on your spelling test today; I’m so proud of you”. Words of praise are easy to incorporate into your day and a good way to focus on positive actions they do.
Second, there are words of affection. These can especially help build attachment and bonding with your child. Words of affection can be simply telling your child “I love you” on a daily basis. You can also say things like “I’m so proud of you” or “I’m so thankful the Lord brought you into our lives”. The important thing to remember is to focus on the each child as an individual. Sometimes this may be difficult if your child is exhibiting extreme behaviors, but it is crucial to explore the reason behind those behaviors and not specifically the behavior itself. This will enable you to focus on loving your child and help you look past the specific behaviors, while also helping your child work through areas of hurt.
Lastly, you can speak affirming words in front others. This not only lets your child know that he or she are loved and adored, but also shows him or her that you are letting others know how much he or she are loved and cherished. All children who are adopted internationally have experienced some type of trauma in their lives. This can range from abuse and abandonment to sexual assault. These traumatic experiences communicate specific things to each child. Words of affirmation can help re-program these ideas the child has in his or her mind. Using words of affirmation on a daily basis can be a very effective tool to show love to your child.
2. Physical Touch
Physical touch as a way of showing and receiving love is something that adopted or children may have never experienced before. Some may have even experienced physical touch in an inappropriate way. Physical touch might look different for younger and older children. For example, with older children it’s important to use physical touch at the appropriate time by paying attention to the child’s mood and body language. It is also important to learn what types of physical touch your child receives the best. Learning about your child will help determine what type of physical touch he or she responds to the best.
Parents can also be creative with trying to show love with physical touch. Most think physical touch consists of hugging and kissing your children. While that is true, there are other ways to use physical touch or help your child gradually become comfortable giving and receiving affectionate touch. Shoulder rubs after a long day at school can be a way to use physical touch. For girls, brushing their hair at night before going to bed is a great way to be creative with physical touch. Moms and daughters can also spend some time bonding by giving each other manicures.
Lastly, I want to talk about the way to employ physical touch when disciplining your child. Gently placing your hand on your child’s arm or wrapping your arm around his or her shoulders when discussing something he or she may have done wrong is a great way to use physical touch to show love. This can be an opportune moment to build bonding and attachment with your adopted child. Using physical touch and being aware of your body language can show the child that even though he or she is being disciplined, he or she is still deeply loved and treasured by the entire family.
We recommend that corporal punishment (hurtful, physical touch) never be used for internationally adopted children. Doing so can trigger emotions and negative thoughts regarding physical touch, and can cause severe damage to trust building and the bonding process. Remember, discipline is about teaching, not about creating fear or punishment. The kind of respect you want to achieve will not result if you use physical touch in a hurtful way, and if you further traumatize a child’s heart. Sending confusing messages can result in regression in the attachment process. This is the exact opposite of what you really hope to achieve as you teach about the positive aspects of physical touch and having loved ones care for your body.
3. Quality Time
Spending quality time with your child is vital in the post-adoptioin process, and a necessity when trying to show your child that you love him or her. Parents, spending quality time upon arriving home with your child, after placement begins the bonding and attachment process, and shows the child that you’re committed to investing in and getting to know him or her. In regards to quality time with your child, there are 3 things to consider. In this are: togetherness, quality conversation, and creating the right environment.
It is possible to be in the same room as your child and not necessarily be together. Togetherness involves spending time with your child, doing an activity that he or she enjoys. For example, if your child shows an interest in helping in the kitchen, on a Saturday afternoon you could spend time with your child baking cookies for the rest of the family, or if your child shows an interest in basketball, you could go to the local park and spend some time shooting hoops. The important thing is to spend quality time with your child doing something he or she enjoys.
Another aspect of quality time to keep in mind is quality conversation. This requires listening to your child, and taking an interest in things that are going on in his or her lives. This will enable you to learn about things your child has experienced in the past, both good and bad, that can foster a connection on a deeper level. It’s important to remember that you don’t want to force your child to talk, but keep open the lines of communication. This helps build trust so your child knows that he or she can go to you for anything.
Lastly, it’s important to create the right environment for quality time. Though quality time can be spent in the home, and should be the first few weeks after placement, sometimes it’s fun to plan a trip or do something out of the ordinary with your child. Listen and observe what the child’s interests are and plan from there. For example, taking a day trip to a different city, going on a camping trip, or attending a sporting event can all be great environments for quality time with your child. It is important to consider when planning something for your child that internationally adopted children can sometimes be over-stimulated in crowded settings. Again, this involves getting to know your child, finding out what he or she likes to do, and begin planning from there.
4. Acts of Service
Acts of service are ways you can spend quality time bonding with your child, and doing things for your child that show him or her that you care. Little things like driving your child to a sports practice, helping your child with homework, or cooking your child special waffles on a Saturday morning can all be acts of service. Acts of service are to be seen as an expression of emotional love. For an adopted child, it can solidify in their minds that you will take care of his or her needs and show the depth of your love.
As an adoptive parent, you want your child to feel loved, especially since some children may have come from a situation where they were isolated in an institution. It’s important to demonstrate acts of service so a child can have a visible representation of love; however, as a child gets older the acts of service should change. For example, when your child is 5, cooking them dinner is an act of service, but when your child is 16 you can begin teaching your child how to cook a meal. Acts of service should continue to develop, just as your child develops, to make sure you’re simultaneously teaching your child to be independent while showing that you love him or her.
Modeling acts of service for your child can also teach him or her how important it is to do acts of service for others. Serving others is a way for believers to be the hands and feet of Christ. This concept can be instilled in the mind of your child as you model it by serving him or her.
Lastly, gifts are tangible evidence of the love you have for your child, and should be done on more occasions than a birthday or Christmas. Gift giving can be complicated and raise areas of concern. What about fostering materialism in the life of my child? What if my child becomes dependent on these gifts and expects them? These are valid concerns. To address these concerns it’s important to evaluate the heart behind the gift giving. For example, manipulating your child to do a task by promising him or her a new pair of shoes is not fostering love via gift giving. Offering a payment for a job or a chore done around the house isn’t a bad thing; in fact, it teaches the child the value of working hard. However, gift giving as an act of love is meant to show emotional love to your child with something tangible, which leads us to consider a few things when giving gifts.
One thing to consider when presenting your child with a gift is the manner in which you give it. For example, little things like packaging and presentation can communicate to your child that you care about him or her. When presenting a gift, you can utilize words of affirmation and physical touch to solidify in the mind of the child that the gift presented to him or her is solely out of love.
Another thing to consider when presenting your child with a gift is to make sure that the gift is for the well-being of the child. By giving your child a gift that serves his or her well-being can communicate love on a deeper level. This can also help guard your child against materialism and prevent entitlement. Gifts do not need to be financially costly, and personally made gifts can be special in their own way. Overall, make sure the gift you’re giving comes from an overflow of love you have for your child and the desire to show that love to him or her.
All children are gifts from the Lord and should be loved and cherished on a daily basis.
I hope these 5 practical ways will serve you well in showing your child love not only during this season of Valentine’s Day, but also on a daily basis as they continue to attach and bond to you and your family. 1 John 4:19 says “We love because he first loved us.” Hide this verse in your hearts as you continue to show love to others, specifically to your children.
Much of The material in this blog post was taken from the book “The Five Love Languages of Teenagers” by Gary Chapman. We have slightly adapted the material to cover children of all ages and to be specific for adopted children. This book is a good resource for parenting older children, but there is also “The Five Love Languages of Children” that can be helpful for individuals parenting younger children.