Have you ever heard of the Five Love Languages? There is a series of great books by Dr. Gary D. Chapman that talk about the different love languages and how to integrate them into different relationships.
A love language is a way of communicating (expressing or receiving) love, and everyone has a primary love language that is how they best express love, and is usually how they want to receive love as well. The books help you understand the love languages, and discover yours and others’ love languages. And then they give you ideas of how to “speak” in the language your loved one understands.
What are the love languages? They are Physical Touch, Words of Affirmation, Quality Time, Gifts, and Acts of Service. But that’s not what I want to tell you about.
I want to tell you about a part of the book The Five Love Languages of Children that really spoke to me. I highly recommend purchasing and reading the entire book.
First, it talked a bit about unconditional love. That love for your child should not be conditional on their behavior as it tends to be. That is something I always kind of knew. I mean I’ve heard about unconditional love before and understood the concept, but what I always struggled with was how to actually put it into practice. Now this may sound simple, because it’s pretty logical, but I’m here to admit that I had never REALLY thought about it this way before.
Unconditional love cannot be based on something that changes with conditions like behavior. Unconditional love has to be based on something that never changes. The one thing that never changes between you and your child, is your relationship to each other. You will always be their parent. I will always be the father of my boys, and they will always be my sons. This will never change. And that is what my love should be based on.
I can be happy for them when they are successful at something, and I can be disappointed or sad when they behave poorly, but neither of these things should change my love for them because I love them because they are my children, not because they are successful.
Now, I truly believe this is true and I think that I am able to do this in reality, but showing unconditional love is another story. That’s the hard part, in my book. I love my sons even when they are misbehaving, but my response to that misbehavior does not always show them that I still love them. In their eyes, my love is probably extremely conditional.
So the “trick” is to show them your love in every situation. When they are young is when they need to know of your love the most, and they really need to learn that your love is unconditional so they can be confident in your love and therefore confident in themselves because they will know that no matter what, their daddy (or mommy) loves them.
And this really is a trick. You are going to have to keep yourself from being reactionary. You are going to have to learn to calm down before speaking and acting. Because you need to remember that even when they have pooped on the floor, or snuck into the pantry and eaten all of the cookies, they still need your love. And it is quite possible that the misbehavior occurred solely (though maybe subconsciously) because they are needing a show of your love for them.
So first and foremost, before reacting, tell them how much you love them. Hug them. Kiss them. Tell them how much they mean to you. And then if there needs to be a consequence, you can institute that.
When they misbehave, the first thought should not be “I can’t believe they just did that!” It should be “what could I have done?” ”Did I not show them enough love or the right love language?” ”Are they crying out for love from me?” This will hopefully put you in the right mindset for dealing with the situation. If you don’t believe even then that you could have done anything more to show them love, then try to find another reason for why they might be misbehaving. Lack of sleep, physical pain, hunger, thirst, and boredom can all be reasons for misbehavior.
See if you can figure that out, and acknowledge it with them. Let them know their feelings are valid, and how you are going to address the reason for their behavior. Then you can give a consequence.
The second thing I learned from this book is the difference between punishment and discipline. Discipline is not negative. Punishment is.
Discipline basically means “to train” or teach. The way I remember this is to think of Jesus’ Disciples. They were the people Jesus was training. And they were to go out and disciple (or teach) to others.
Now that you understand that discipline does not mean punishment, but rather training, you can begin to broaden your scope of dealing with misbehavior. Not every behavior needs punishment, but it does need training, and that training can be in many different forms; positive reinforcement, discussion, redirection, no-reaction, or negative reinforcement (punishment), to name a few. So you can see, punishment is a tool in your discipline toolbox, but it is just one tool, and shouldn’t be used for every situation.
Punishment is used way too often these days. A hammer shouldn’t be used for painting, or driving a screw. And yet we tend to think that if we hammer on our kids, we will get the outcome we want, when in reality we are just doing damage.
So don’t forget: first love, then assess the situation to determine a reason for the behavior, then choose the appropriate style of discipline, and always treat your child calmly with love and respect, even when the appropriate response is punishment. The more you talk them through the process the more respected they will feel and the more they will respect you.