Curious how to make your child feel loved and valued? As a certified Positive Discipline Parent Educator, I’ve put together a list of the top 10 positive parenting tools to support you in this mission. (We’ll also talk about what to do when your child says you don’t love them…ouch!)
What happens when a child doesn’t feel loved?
Jane Nelson, Positive Discipline guru, has often said, “People do better when they feel better.”
Research shows positive, respectful parenting helps kids feel good about themselves and their relationships with their caregivers. As a result, they are more likely to make healthier, more positive choices in the long run when compared to kids raised with authoritarian parenting methods.
Research Outcomes of Authoritarian Parenting
Authoritarian parenting often relies on harsh punishments, fear, and control to direct children’s behavior. Research shows:
- Preschool-aged children raised with harsh discipline methods are more likely to exhibit challenging behaviors. (Olson et al., 2011).
- Children who experience harsh control by parents are more likely to show increasingly challenging behaviors as they grow and develop over time (Pinquart, 2017).
- Kids raised with authoritarian parenting methods are more likely to bully peers (Luk et al., 2016).
- Children who receive spankings are less likely to comply with parent directives, in both the short- and long-term, when compared to non-physical discipline methods (Gershoff, 2013).
- The more children are spanked between the ages of 1 and 3 the more likely they are to exhibit aggressive behavior between the ages of 3 and 5 (Lee et al., 2013).
How to know if your child feels loved
When it comes to positive parenting, love is perhaps the most important ingredient for success! According to Dr. Nelson, “Positive discipline tools don’t work… until children feel belonging and significance.” So how do we know if our kiddos are feeling the love?
They feel safe expressing their feelings
Authoritarian parenting methods often send the message to kids that big feelings are not welcome. E.g., “Stop crying or I’ll give you something to cry about!”
In contrast, authoritative, positive parenting encourages kids to feel their feelings. Positive parents affirm the emotions at play, even if they may later correct the behaviors that accompanied them. E.g., “You hit your brother and I can see you’re angry. It’s okay to feel angry when he takes your toys. Let’s talk about how you can work together to solve this problem more peacefully next time.”
I often hear from concerned parents that their young children only “act out” around them. “They are tantrum-free at daycare or with babysitters, yet have daily meltdowns with me! What am I doing wrong?”
If you are following positive parenting chances are, nothing! You are their safe space. A soft place to fall. Those big feelings were probably brewing all day and he or she was waiting for the comfort of your arms and words to unload. It’s certainly not easy, but be proud of fostering this safe haven for your child!
They run to you (not from you) with their problems
Positive parenting helps children feel safe, loved, and valued. Positive parents honor the true definition of discipline, meaning “to teach.” Hence, their priority is problem-solving, rather than punishment.
After working as a professional school counselor for close to a decade, I noticed a common theme among young kids who frequented my office. Many of their days revolved around a fear of being “in trouble.”
Kids are kids. Even with this fear, they still made poor choices at times. However, with this worry, they may be more likely to try to cover their tracks and shift blame.
On the other hand, children raised with positive parenting are encouraged to see their parents as loving consultants in the problem-solving process. They are supported in turning mistakes into opportunities for learning and growth. As a result, they may be more likely to run to (and not from) their parents after a misstep.
How to Make Your Child Feel Loved and Valued with 10 Key Positive Parenting Tools
1. Express love before correcting negative behavior.
The number one strategy for how to make your child feel loved and valued is to choose “connection” before “correction.”
In other words, positive parents opt for a hug, provide a listening ear, and/or validate feelings before revisiting boundaries.
The beauty of this tool is that it not only helps children feel loved but significantly increases their ability to absorb redirection.
2. Plan ahead and schedule special time together.
Sure, we all spend time with our kids just getting through the basic day-to-day tasks. But special time is different. It’s about carving out time to spend with your child in advance.
Dr. Jane Nelson of Positive Discipline recommends brainstorming a list of “special time activities” with your child. Then, you can take turns choosing what to do together. She also provides the following suggestions for how much special time to carve out, depending on your child’s age:
- 2-6 years: 10 minutes per day
- 7-12 years: 30 minutes per week
- Ages 13 and up: Once a month doing “something your teen can’t resist” (Nelson & Garsia, 2011)
3. Remove distractions and listen.
When working as an elementary school counselor, I taught an annual lesson to all of my students on “whole-body listening.” Whole-body listening goes beyond just listening with your ears but includes looking with your eyes, keeping a quiet voice, and a calm/still body when someone is talking to you.
I would often ask students, “How do you know when someone isn’t listening to you?” The most common answer? Screens.
Practicing whole-body, screen-free listening on a daily basis can go a long way if you are seeking how to make your child feel loved and valued! It’s one thing to tell a child “I love you” with words, but it’s another to show them through your actions when they have something to tell you.
4. Show them you believe they are capable.
The positive discipline model encourages parents to find ample opportunities to ask children for their help. Kids feel loved and valued when they are genuinely contributing in some way.
Rather than saying “You can do it!”, ask “Can you help me with…?” If you have young children, sometimes this means letting go a bit. Things may not be perfect. Messes may happen. But don’t worry, you can then ask your child to help you clean up!
- “Can you please help me unload the dryer?”
- “Would you like to help open this box or stir the batter?”
- “I need to build this new shelf today. I’d love to have your help!”
- “This new app on my phone isn’t working. What are your thoughts on how to fix it?”
Be sure to conclude any contributing tasks with genuine words of appreciation to help your child feel capable and valued.
5. Collaborate with them to address problems.
No one likes to be told what to do. Particularly toddlers and teenagers! Regardless of your child’s age, consider them a collaborator with you in the problem-solving process. Kids thrive on being given “voice and choice” in their daily decision-making.
For young kiddos, you may offer controlled choices to solve simple problems. E.g., “Which should we cleanup first, the blocks or the books?”
For children over the age of four, the positive discipline model strongly encourages parents to make use of regular family meetings. When hot-button issues arise during the week, simply put it on the next meeting agenda.
Problem-solving as a family when things are calm can be so much more powerful than battling it out when emotions are running high. If the issue resurfaces, you can then simply say “What was our agreement about turning off the tablet before bed?”, rather than nagging and making demands.
6. Recognize them for choices within their control.
One of the greatest surprises to most newcomers of positive discipline is that this style of parenting discourages praise. What?! I know. It seems contradictory, but excessively praising a child can harm their growth mindset, intrinsic motivation, and self-confidence in taking on new challenges.
Recognition, rather than praise and rewards, is a much better ally when seeking how to make your child feel loved and valued. Recognition:
- Helps increase kids’ self-awareness of specific positive choices to repeat in the future.
- Focuses on building up a child’s feelings of pride, rather than the grown-up’s.
- Hones in on choices within a child’s realm of control and choice (e.g., work habits and perseverance over IQ and natural talents).
7. Maintain limits and boundaries.
Sure, they may be unlikely to admit it. But maintaining limits and boundaries plays a huge role in how to make your child feel loved and valued.
When we provide a child love without firmness, they may learn that “Love means getting others to take care of me and give me everything I want,” according to Positive Discipline.
A few examples of how to be both kind AND firm:
- “I see you’re upset about leaving the playground. It’s okay to feel sad AND it’s time to go home.”
- “I hear that you really want another cupcake. They were delicious AND we agreed on one. If your belly is still hungry, would you like an apple or a banana?”
- “I know you very much want to go to this new friend’s house AND what was our agreement about me meeting your friends’ parents first?”
8. Ask them open-ended questions.
Open-ended questions are incredibly powerful when looking for how to make your child feel loved and valued. They are quite effective for two purposes:
- To connect with your child and get to know their heart.
- To help your child grow through mistakes.
To connect with your child and get to know their heart
Closed-ended questions such as, “Did you have a good day at school?” will only yield a yes or no response. Consider alternatives such as:
- “What was your proudest moment at school today?”
- “How were you able to solve your problem of who to play with at recess?”
- “What was the biggest surprise to you on your science test?”
To help your child grow through mistakes
Open-ended questions are also vital when kids make negative choices. Asking “why” or closed-ended questions such as “Why would you do that?” and “Do you think you should apologize?” often put kids on the defense and may result in them shutting down.
To learn six evidence-based, open-ended questions for helping kids grow through mistakes, be sure to check out one of Such a Little While’s most popular articles, “My Child Shows No Remorse! How to Spark Empathy.”
9. Monitor their attention bucket.
It’s no secret that kids thrive on lots of positive attention. But it’s important to remember that every child is different when it comes to their needs. Reading your child’s cues and opting for equity over equality (particularly if you have multiple children) is key.
While it’s certainly not always possible to immediately fulfill every request for attention, it’s important to be aware of their cues that they may be running low.
For example, imagine after dinner, your three-year-old wants to get back to playing together ASAP. You on the other hand are eager to tackle the mountain of dishes and wipe down the counters before bedtime! But if you continue to ignore or give a plain old “no” to his requests, this is a possible sequence of events:
- He asks to play.
- He runs around the kitchen island and his voice begins to escalate.
- He “accidentally” knocks into you as he’s running.
- He tugs on your shirt.
- He yells at or hits you.
As with most children, his plea for attention eventually escalates from a whisper to a scream. Kids are determined! If they want attention, they will find a way to get it, positive or negative.
So what’s a busy parent to do? Don’t worry, the answer is not completely abandoning all household and work responsibilities. Here are some potential solutions for this scenario:
- Top off his attention bucket with 5-10 minutes of focused playtime together before returning to the dishes.
- Step away from the dishes and connect with a hug and eye contact. Get on his level and validate his feelings. Return to the dishes, but set a visual timer so he knows when playtime will resume.
- Ask for his help cleaning up the kitchen. Make it a playful and fun time together.
10. Opt for natural consequences over punishments.
Positive discipline allows parents the opportunity to step out of the “punisher” role. “But how on earth will my child learn right from wrong?” Natural consequences.
Natural consequences allow us to help our children feel loved, valued, and supported while still learning from the impact of their choices.
Rather than us deciding to take away screen time or dessert in an arbitrary manner, natural consequences unfold all on their own (if we let them).
For example, a child refuses to wear gloves in the winter. As a result, he will discover all on his own that his hands are quite cold without them!
Or perhaps your daughter breaks her brother’s toy on purpose. He may be angry and not want to play or share with her for a bit. Understandable! Allow him this space.
Natural consequences enable parents to take on a supportive role in helping children grow through mistakes. Furthermore, they are much more impactful than arbitrary consequences because there is a direct relationship between the behavior and the outcome. This being said, children under the age of four will still have a difficult time linking cause and effect.
FAQ: What do you do when your child says you don’t love them?
If you find yourself in this situation, know you are not alone. Let’s first consider cognitive development.
The brain’s prefrontal cortex, responsible for impulse control and rational decision-making, is not fully developed until age 25! Then to top it off, when big emotions are at play, these skills become even more challenging to execute.
Simply put, kids will say and do things in the heat of the moment without giving it much thought!
Rather than taking things personally, getting defensive, or using logic and reasoning to “convince” your child how much you love them, let’s discuss a more effective positive parenting strategy:
- Listen. Let your child talk first. Show genuine concern and interest in hearing more about their thoughts and feelings. This is a perfect opportunity to demonstrate how much you love and value them!
- Validate. Separate your own feelings of anger, frustration, or sadness from theirs. Everyone has a right to feel their feelings. Remember, you can affirm their emotions without condoning their hurtful words or negative choices. For example, “I hear that you’re mad that I can no longer take you to the pool today. Is that correct? It’s okay to feel angry and disappointed.”
- Collaborate. Rather than forcing an inauthentic apology, show your child that you value their input. Let them know you would like to work together as problem-solvers. For example, “Today you used some unkind words after I had to change our plans. Now that we’ve had some time to cool-off, I’d love to hear your ideas on how we can better handle schedule changes in the future. I’ve been thinking of some ideas too.”
The last thing you need to know about how to make your child feel loved and valued
Looking for even more ideas on how to make your child feel loved and valued? I invite you to join me in Such a Little While’s free 30-day Positive Parenting Challenge. In just a few minutes each day, you’ll learn and apply 30 unique positive parenting tools, master the art of effective consequences, and explore custom solutions to best meet the needs of your family. You got this!
Gershoff, E.T. (2013). Spanking and Child Development: We Know Enough Now To Stop Hitting Our Children. Child Dev Perspect, 7(3), 133-137. https://doi.org/10.1111/cdep.12038
Lee, S.J., Altschul, I., Gershoff, E.T. Does warmth moderate longitudinal associations between maternal spanking and child aggression in early childhood? Dev Psychol. 2013 Nov;49(11):2017-2028. https://doi.apa.org/doi/10.1037/a0031630
Olson, S. L., Tardif, T. Z., Miller, A., Felt, B., Grabell, A., Kessler, D., Wang, L., Karasawa, M., & Hirabayashi, H. (2011). Inhibitory Control and Harsh Discipline as Predictors of Externalizing Problems in Young Children: A Comparative Study of U.S., Chinese, and Japanese Preschoolers. Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 39(1163). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10802-011-9531-5
Nelson, J. (2006). Positive Discipline (Revised ed.). Ballantine Books.
Nelson, J. (2017). Positive Discipline Workbook (Revised ed.). Positive Discipline.
Nelson, J., & Garsia, A. (2011). Positive Discipline Parenting Tools. Empowering People.
Pinquart, M. (2017). Associations of parenting dimensions and styles with externalizing problems of children and adolescents: An updated meta-analysis. Dev Psychol, 53(5), 873-932. https://doi.apa.org/doi/10.1037/dev0000295
Siegel, D. J. & Bryson, T. P. (2011). The whole-brain child: 12 revolutionary strategies to nurture your child’s developing mind. Bantam Books.