“Mom, why don’t you love me just like I am? Why do you want me to be someone I’m not?!” These words were recently spoken by my son. How on earth had I given this child whom I love more than life the idea that I don’t love him just as he is? And how could I show him that I do?
My son is 17 years old and has Asperger’s. He knows he’s different than most other people his age, and he struggles with that. But what he doesn’t realize yet is that many teens struggle with feeling different. With feeling like they don’t belong. With feeling like they’re not good enough or even, at times, like their parents don’t love them—or at least don’t like them very much.
One of the reasons I joined The Busy Mom is to encourage other moms of special needs kiddos. I have 3 of them. My oldest is severely autistic and totally non-verbal. My son has Asperger’s and struggles with serious sensory issues. My youngest has ADHD. So I’m definitely here to encourage and (hopefully) help other moms of special needs kids.
But sometimes, whether our kids are neuro-typical or not, they’re going to struggle—and so are we as parents. I suppose if we didn’t struggle at times, we would feel like we have it all under control. Like we don’t need God. But we do. And He loves us enough to let us learn the hard way if necessary.
So how can we show our children that we love them just as they are? That they don’t have to be smarter or prettier or stronger or richer or anything other than who they are? Here are some ideas to get you (any myself!) started.
- Don’t compare him to others. Don’t ever say, “The Johnson children always obey when their mom tells them to take out the trash. Why can’t you take out the trash just once without complaining about it?!” Instead, say something like, “I really appreciate it when you take out the trash without complaining.”
- Take opportunities to point out the good in your children. These opportunities may be few and far between at first, but they should increase with time and positive feedback.
- Learn each child’s love language and speak it as often as possible. A great book on this topic is The Five Love Languages of Teenagers: The Secret to Loving Teens Effectively by Gary D. Chapman. If you intentionally speak your child’s love language, your child will come to feel loved and accepted. This is definitely a step in the right direction.
- Spend time with your children. I know it sounds crazy to tell you to spend time with your children because you already spend lots of time with them, right? The time I’m talking about, however, is time doing something your child enjoys. Our children feel like we are required to love them, but they know that doesn’t necessarily mean we like them. If we spend time now and then enjoying something with our children that they enjoy, that will communicate to them that we not only love but also like them.
- Don’t bring up your child’s past mistakes. This can be a hard one, but it’s extremely important! None of us like having our past mistakes brought up—and that includes our kids.
- Tell your kiddos that you like them—not just that you love them. Now and then, I hug one of my children and simply say, “Hey, I like you!” and give that child a big hug and kiss. (My son is obviously “due” for another one of these!)
- Explain to your child that it’s ok if he or she isn’t like everyone else (especially if you have a special needs child). If possible, you might even want to point out some traits in your child that are particularly good and that others might not necessarily possess.
- Take your child’s hopes, dreams, and plans seriously. If you do, your child will know that you truly do care. That you really want what’s best for him or her. Sure our children will from time to time have a plan that we know ahead of time just won’t work. Sometimes, though, our children have to learn lessons the hard way. But we can be there to support them and to encourage them to make a new plan and try again!
- Make sure your children know that they can talk to you about anything as long as they do it in a respectful way. If our children are afraid we’ll fuss at them or get angry with them when they talk to us about certain things, they won’t be willing to come to us. It makes our children feel accepted and important (especially our older teens) when we’re willing to truly listen and consider what they have to say and to talk with them on a more “adult” level.
- As your child’s opinion about things. I’ve noticed that when I ask my son’s opinions about things—even small things such as what to make for dinner or what book I should read next—it makes him feel important and like I value his opinion (which I do). It’s such a little thing, but it can truly make a big difference in his attitude and in his perceived value in the family.
Obviously I need to read back over this list now and then and remind myself to intentionally show and tell my children that I love them, like them, and am thankful for each of them. I hope these ideas help you too—or at least that they spark some ideas that you can use with your own children.
Do you have any tips to share? We would love to hear your ideas on how you help your children understand that you love them and that you like them just as they are!
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