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10 Ways to Love Your Children Without Words

Amanda Tipton

Kathleen M. Berchelmann, MD - published on 01/06/14

From making sure you make eye contact to eating together as a family, these simple tips can make all the difference.

Move over, Dr. Oz. Say hello to Aleteia’s own Dr. Kathleen!

Aleteia is pleased to welcome today as a regular contributor Dr. Kathleen Berchelmann, M.D., a pediatrician at St. Louis Children’s Hospital and Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at Washington University School of Medicine.  

Dr. Kathleen’s column will appear regularly every other Tuesday. 

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Proverbs 22:6 says, “Train children in the right way, and when old, they will not stray” (NRSV). So what is the right way to train a child? First and foremost, I want to train my children to love as Jesus did. Here are ten easy things you can do each day to love your children more fully, and teach them to love as Jesus did.

1. Make eye contact with your kids.

Eye contact takes just a few seconds, yet most of the time when we are responding to our kids, we are focused on our own tasks. Take a moment and look up from your computer, phone, or housework to make eye contact with your child’s beautiful eyes while you talk to them. 

They will love you for it.  It will brighten your day, too.    

2.  Touch your children.

Every human needs physical touch.  If you aren’t hugging your kids enough, they will seek physical affection elsewhere.  Older kids, especially, may be hesitant to initiate physical affection with their parents.

Touch your child’s arm while you are speaking to him, hold his hand while walking, put your arm around him for a moment when he gets home from school.  Kids who don’t learn healthy, loving touch early in life may struggle with adult physical relationships, and may be at higher risk for sexual abuse.

3.  Let your kids sleep.

Sleeplessness makes us selfish and grumpy.  It is hard to love others when we are too tired.  Just getting enough sleep reduces childhood injuries and obesity and improves school performance and social success!  How much sleep do your kids need, and how can you get them to bed on time?  My friend and colleague Dr. Kelly Ross shares her sleep research and tricks for better bedtimes here.  Are you tired? Here’s what sleep deprivation does to parents.

4.  Quit yelling at your kids (or at least try).

Jesus didn’t yell, so why do we?  Controlling our anger is actually essential for our children’s brain development.  Attentive nurturing has actually been shown to increase the size of the hippocampus, the part of the brain that modulates stress, emotion, and memory, among other things.

Keep reading on the next page

In a study by Dr. Joan Luby of Washington University, researchers evaluated how parents dealt with toddlers in stressful situations.  Then they studied the brains of the children as they entered their school aged years.  The children’s whose parents gave supportive care during stressful events actually had larger hippocampal volume when they became school-aged.

Resolve to keep learning new ways to deal with your kids when they make you very angry.  I stopped spanking my kids.  Instead, we use redirection, essay writing, extra chores, and lots of other tricks to keep our kids in order.  Now our kids become angry less often, and so do I.

Do you have a child with ADHD, ADD, or other behavior challenges?  I do.  Managing your (and their) anger can be a daunting task. Here are six tips to make your life easier.  

5. Cut down on extracurricular activities, and make time for family life.

Do you feel like most of your one-on-one time with your kids is in the car?  Do you give up family dinner or chores to get kids to activities?  If so, it might be time to re-evaluate your family’s extracurricular plan. Here are my criteria for choosing activities wisely.  Simplify your life – and theirs!

6. Make time for creative play.

Successful social and emotional development does not occur in front of a screen.  Do your kids play outside, build forts and club houses, and engage in creative play?  Research keeps showing that creative play develops kinds of brain functions that are important down the road in higher levels of math and science – as well as intellectual, social and emotional development.  Here are my seven tips for promoting creative play in your home.

7. Eat together.

Jesus ate with those he loved, and so should we.  If this isn’t enough to convince you to prioritize family dinner, we even have pediatric research that shows health benefits for kids who eat with their families.  Family meals are associated with:

– 12% lower likelihood of children being overweight
– 20% decrease in eating unhealthy foods
– 35% decrease in the chance of disordered eating habits (anorexia, bulimia, etc.)

For more on why family meals matter, see this article by my colleague, TheDoctorDad, Dr. Phil Boucher.

8. Heal the sick.

You may not be able to make the blind see and the lame walk, but when your child has the stomach flu, there is no one else they would rather have with them than a loving parent.  Some of my most tender memories of my mother were the moments when she cared for me while I was sick.  Children depend on their parents to keep them healthy and tend to them when they are ill.  Is it time to schedule your child’s check-up?  Do they have a healthy diet?  Do they need to take vitamins?  Do you take your children with you when you visit a hospitalized friend?  Caring for the sick is a corporal work of mercy.  When we care for our sick children, we teach them how to approach sick people for the rest of their lives.

Keep reading on the next page

9. Take care of yourself.

You can’t love your children if you don’t love yourself.  Are you often rushed, stressed, and wearing the first two things you could find in your closet?  It’s time to take better care of yourself.  What do you need?  Sleep, food, exercise, and prayer time are essentials.  Are you getting enough?  If not, think practically about what you need to cut out of your life to take care of yourself.

10. Forgive.

How can we teach our children to forgive if we don’t forgive them?  Sometimes we get so caught up with parenting techniques, consistent consequences, and discipline that we forget to forgive our children.  Fortunately, God forgives them (and us).

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Dr. Kathleen is the co-founder and director of ChildrensMD, a blog written by five dynamic mom-pediatricians who share their true confessions of trying to apply science and medicine to motherhood. Kathleen and her husband are raising five children.

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