This is the underlying and constant question that children and young people have running through their minds whether on a conscious or unconscious basis. We all have a need to be loved and children and young people are no exception to the rule.
Most often than not, however, children and young people may not be aware of this driving need and may act in ways which test their parents’ love for them. Again, they are generally unaware of why they are doing what they are doing because it is an unconscious act governed by the need to be and to feel loved. Though these actions may test some parents’ patience or drive some parents to despair, the trick for the parents is to look behind the behaviour at what children or young people might be trying to tell you. For instance, examples of behaviour might range from minor incidences like some children bedwetting again, creating ‘weird and wonderful’ fantasies that might seem real to them, hyperactivity, to more serious situations like stealing, mixing with the wrong crowd that leads them astray, substance misuse, self harm or even worse, suicide (sadly and steadily on the increase amongst young people and is the second or third highest cause of death for young people). The behaviour is a form of communication to you that tells you that something is going on and again, children especially, and young people may not be able to put into words how they are feeling. They just need that affirmative ‘yes’ in words and actions from their parents.
Where young people are concerned, they have so many challenges going on at this crucial stage of development in their lives, that it is so easy for them to get distracted and perhaps do things that they wouldn’t normally do in an attempt to ‘find themselves’ or ‘find me’. It is also a time for them naturally to want to explore and strive for their independence from their parents. Whilst this is a natural part of their growth, this stage still needs to be managed, whereby parents give young people more freedom a little at a time depending on their ability to manage this new found freedom and the responsibilities that it entails. Give them too much freedom at first and it will be difficult to claw it back later on if and when things go wrong. Children and young people of all ages need boundaries, irrespective of their behaviour and them telling you that they are not ‘a kid’ anymore. An Ofsted report 2007 UK reveals that young people believe that teachers treat them like young adults too soon. So whilst they want the extra freedom, they don’t want or are unable to cope with too much of it and therefore the increased responsibilities that it brings.
Another important point about a young person’s need to know that he or she is loved is the natural need for them to see their parents demonstrate that they love them. It might appear that they don’t want to be hugged anymore as they get older, but this is generally a façade that they put on at this stage of their development. Providing you are not ignoring their wishes by hugging them and embarrassing them in front of their friends, (my eldest is 17 years old and he openly initiates and gives me a hug in front of his friends), then always show your children affection. This can be as simple as tapping/touching them on their shoulders, arms, head or back as you walk past them.
Brian Tracy, a leading sales and personal development guru, sited an experiment called the Infant Death Syndrome where an experiment with newly born babies showed that half the babies in the experiment were not shown any form of affection and were just fed and changed when necessary. The other half of the babies in the experiment were also changed and fed, given extra attention, affection, hugged and played with. The difference in the development of the growth in the two sets of babies was so stark that the experiment had to be stopped, though too late, as the set of babies which didn’t receive the nurturing and affection, literally shriveled up and some of them actually died. A very potent example to illustrate the point above, as it is so easy to underestimate young people’s need for affection because of the contradictory behaviour that they portray.
So what do you do?
Give constant reassurance, praise, love, focused attention and affection and most importantly, LISTEN and give Lots of hugs.
This by no means, is not just about Positive Parenting or just being positive parents as this approach goes
over and above that.