Individual and personal caring that goes both beneath and beyond loyalty and respect. Love for friends, neighbors, even adversaries. And a prioritized, lifelong commitment of love for family.
Our youngest child is named Charity. We like the sound of the word as well as its definition of "pure love." A few weeks before her first birthday we were trying to generate a discussion of love with our older children around the dinner table. What is love? What causes us to feel it for others? And why are some people so much easier to feel it for than others?
Hard questions, especially for children. No -- maybe especially hard for adults and easier for children. The discussion went beyond what we had hoped. We found ourselves learning instead of teaching. We talked about love meaning caring and about how we love those who love us and do things for us. Then our eleven-year-old daughter brought up the illustration of baby Charity. "She doesn't do things for us, we do everything for her, and just think how much we all love Charity!"
"Well, she does love us," said the seven year old, "you can tell that by how she looks at you."
"And she never tells you to be different," said our nine-year-old son, "she just seems to like you no matter what."
What are the messages?
First we learn to love by being loved unconditionally.
The principle: We may not always love those who serve us. Their love, depending on how it is given, can spoil us, or intimidate us, or even antagonize us. But unconditional, understanding, fully accepting love warms us without reservation and brings about our reciprocal love. And while we may not necessarily love those who serve us, we will love those whom we serve.
Thus, all of the methods for teaching this value boil down to giving children unconditional love and giving them opportunities to serve.
Develop a Service Orientation. You and your children can learn collectively to love through serving. Any kind of service project is a "petri dish" for growing love. Look for charitable services that can be rendered as a family and that can involve your children. These can range from "Sub-for-Santa" charity programs at Christmas time to clean-up, fix-up projects in summer to helping needy people at any time of the year.
Provide and Allow for Apology and "Repentance." This helps show children that you place love and improvement over punishment and penalty. Too often, well-meaning parents adopt an almost Gestapo-like mentality of "justice" and retribution. "Break a law, get a punishment."
Love is better taught in settings where "repentance" or restitution is an alternative to punishment.
Teach children that when they make a mistake, or lose their temper, or break a family law, they can often avoid a punishment if they apologize, make restitution, and promise not to "do it again." For smaller children use the "repenting bench" mentioned earlier. When two children fight or argue, sit them on the bench and tell them that the only way to get off the bench is to say what they (not the other guy) did wrong, to apologize (including a hug), and to promise not to do it again. Help them to see that whenever there is a fight or argument, both parties have done something ("it takes two to tangle").
Praise them and show pride for any "repenting" they do. The whole process can add to the love that is expressed and felt in your home.
Clearly Separate Dissatisfaction with Behavior from Love of Child. Assure and reassure your children of your unconditional love for them. At every instance of discipline or corrections reiterate that it is what the child did that you do not like and that your love for the child cannot be altered by anything. Mention this frequently to children of all ages and back it up with a hug and physical affection. Say, "James, I was really upset when you were two hours late getting home from school and didn't call me, and you deserve the penalty you're getting, but I want to remind you that it's what you did that I'm not so wild about. I still love you as much as ever. I always do and always will!"
Review the activities and stories that go along with this months value. Make sure everyone in your family understands the value so they can see how they can apply it in their own lives and situations.
Talk about the Monthly Value every morning and remind your family to look for opportunities to use the value throughout the day. They may also observe how others don't understand the value. Get your children to share their experience with the value each day at the dinner table or before you go to bed. Be sure to share your experience each day as well. It will help your children know that you are thinking about the value too.
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