Come this time of year, we tend to think about love. The stores are filled with valentines, hearts and lovey gifts. Valentine's Day tends to be a holiday for grown-ups, but feeling loved is a basic need for everyone, even children. Kids who are secure in the knowledge of being loved are more likely to be kind, self-confident, compassionate and forgiving.

Of course we love our children. We work to provide them all the physical things they need. We hug them and tell them we love them. We take them places. We make sure they laugh and play. We do lots of things to show our love, but what do young children recognize as love?

Toddlers and preschoolers feel love in more egotistical ways. Their developing brains allow them to think in terms of themselves only. They are not selfish or self-centered; that's just where they are developmentally.

Love to a toddler is the person who loves him unconditionally even when he's throwing a tantrum. Toddlers look to the adults in their lives to understand their unsocial behaviors. They need to know they are loved and cared for no matter what their behavior looks like. They need adults who can stay calm and help them through big emotions without making them feel bad. The worse the behavior, the more our children need our love.

Love to a preschooler is predictability. She needs to know what each day will look like, what the schedule and expectations are. Preschool-aged children test us so often because they're checking to make sure the rules have stayed the same. We can provide both powerful love lessons and rich learning experiences by allowing our kids to make mistakes, and then figure out how to fix those mistakes. Check out a Love and Logic class for great ideas on teaching responsibility.

Love to all kids is security.  Children need the security of knowing their parents will keep them safe from activities they are not ready for, and from people or situations that could harm them. They need to feel the security of living in a calm and nurturing home with a family who is emotionally mature.

Providing that security means saying "no" sometimes. It means understanding that adult things need to stay adult things. Never argue or bicker in earshot of your child. Never speak harshly about another person in the presence of your child (not even work complaints).

Oh, and remember how toddlers and preschoolers are developmentally egotistical? They experience undivided attention as love. All children need to feel they are the most important person in at least one adult’s life once in awhile. I know a dad who schedules 15 minutes every day to play with his child -- doing whatever that child wants to do. Sometimes they wrestle, sometimes they read books, and sometimes they play cars on the floor. Whatever it is, the child gets to choose and be the star of the show for just 15 minutes. I guarantee this child feels love. He looks forward to the end of the day when he is the most important person in his dad’s life. He is the center of attention and affection. It can’t get better than this -- for either one of them!

Jeanne Labana, from Milwaukee, has been an educator for over 25 years. With 4 grown children and 8 grandchildren she’s experienced it all! She continues to teach parenting classes including Love and Logic, coach parents, and assist anyone touching the lives of children. 

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