Almost every study I know indicates that every child wants to know of his parents, “ Do you love me?” and that a child asks this emotional question mostly in his behaviour, seldom verbally. By a child’s behaviour he/she tells us what he/she needs, whether it’s more love, more discipline, more acceptance, or more understanding. The answer to this question is absolutely the most important thing in any child’s life.

Funny enough, it is our behaviour that conveys the answer to this question. The feeling of love for our child may be strong in our hearts, but that is not enough. Our love is conveyed by our behaviour toward our child, by what we say and what we do.

A critical concept for parents to understand is that each child has an emotional tank. This tank is figurative, of course, but in a sense very real. Each child has certain emotional needs, and whether these emotional needs are met (through love, understanding, discipline, etc.) determines many things. First of all, it determines how a child feels: whether he or she is content, angry, depressed, or joyful. Second, it affects his or her behaviour: whether he/she is obedient, disobedient, whiny, perky, playful, or withdrawn. Naturally, the fuller the emotional tank, the more positive the feelings and the better the behaviour.

Recently, while getting a manicure, a husband and wife were talking to me about how much effort they have to put into getting their son to eat. As our conversation progressed, the father said, “Actually, my son really doesn’t care about me. He only wants his mother. “He hits me or says, “I don’t want you” and runs to his mother.” Quickly, his wife piped up and said, “That’s because I spend time with him. You come home from work and spend the rest of the evening on the internet.”

I spoke to the father about many things, but one thing I mentioned was that he could easily turn this around by simply spending some one-on-one time with his son. I explained that it didn’t need to be a lot of time - 20 mins seems like ages to a toddler- but the fact that his daddy would make the effort to spend some quality time with him would be HUGE.

Another thing I made sure to mention to this father was that during this one-on-one time, he must make a conscious effort to make eye contact with his son. When his son is speaking to him, he must do his best to get down to his son’s level and really look into his eyes and listen.

Other coaching clients of mine were having similar problems. They described their children as being whiny, clingy, easily upset, frequently fighting and irritable. After discussing what things were going on in their lives lately, I discovered that they had just moved and had been trying to get the house ready before the father had to start his new job.

After more discussion, the parents admitted that although they had talked to the children frequently throughout the day, most of the conversations were done without focused attention and definitely without eye contact. My thought, other than the fact that a move is stressful for kids, was that the children’s “emotional tank” had run dry. By their behaviour, they were, in their childlike, normal irrational way asking, “Do you love me now that we’re in a new place?” “Are things still the same with us?”

After our coaching session, the parents went home and put into practice the techniques I suggested, particularly the one about giving the boys eye contact whenever possible. On our next call they said that the change in their household and in their children’s behaviour was dramatic. It seemed that because their emotional tanks had begun to be filled, they had become more happy, radiant and better behaved.

It’s easy for parents to develop the habit of using eye contact primarily when they want to make a strong point to a child, especially a negative one. It is so important for parents to remember that eye contact is one of the main sources of a child’s emotional nurturing. When a parent uses this powerful means of control at their disposal in primarily a negative way, a child cannot but see his parent in a primarily negative way. So, if want our children to be happy and content in knowing without a doubt that we really love them, then we must give them the focused attention of our eyes more often.

Opportunities for natural eye contact are:

1) When your child is verbally sharing something with you. 2) When you are at the dinner table together.
3) When you are showing them how happy you are for them when they show you something they’re proud of.
4) When you are non-verbally wanting to tell your child “Good job!” (Ex. A Smile and thumbs up).
5) When spending one-on-one time with them.

Try this and notice the results! “ How to Ensure Your Child Feels Loved: Part 2 - Through Physical Contact - comes next!

Author's Bio: 

Erin Kurt, parenting & life coach to working mothers, and founder of ErinParenting, is also the author of Juggling Family Life and creator of The Life Balance Formula and the How to Get Your Child to Listen program.