Why children need unconditional love from their parents
An excerpt from 'Signals: How Brain Science and the Bible Help Parents Raise Resilient Children'
By Cherilyn Orr
As a parent, you cannot “spoil” a child with too much emotional connection. Large quantities of time, attention and love are never the reason a child is spoiled. Spoiling is permissiveness, giving children what they want simply because they said so. It gives them a sense of entitlement, an “I get what I want, when I want it, how I want it” sort of mindset. Needless to say, this is not an authentic connection with your child.
Being a Stoplight Parent means training in the context of relationship. It means ensuring that your children feel emotionally safe before dealing with behavioural issues. Relationship always precedes behaviour.
What is a Stoplight parent?
The Stoplight Approach encourages kids to think about their emotional state as like the colours of a traffic light, with each colour giving them a helpful signal about what to do next:
- Red means stop and seek help to calm your feelings.
- Yellow means slow down and be careful.
- Green means go right on doing whatever they are doing (green is the best state to be in).
The greater goal of the Stoplight Approach as a whole is to help a parent stay in control of their own emotions as they're trying to train their child. Learn more
“I love my children, but I don’t I think I like them very much.” Have your ever thought this or admitted this aloud before? I totally understand this tension. My own prayer is that I delight in my children even when they haven’t earned it. Even when they absolutely have not been lovable!
It’s easy to delight in my son when his chores and homework are all done, and he wants to sit with me and chat. It’s easy to delight in my daughter when she’s just finished the dishes without being told. But then I walk into her room in the morning to wake her up, and all I see is an incredible mess, tangled hair and mismatched clothes. When I’m in Yellow Brain – overwhelmed, stressed and running late – instead of greeting my children with love and delight in the morning, I often greet them with a sense of disappointment and a critical spirit. When I start the day with a negative tone, I lose sight of the beautiful children God has given me! And when I focus on the one area they may have failed in, do they feel loved?
One of the most shocking things I realized as I learned about brain science was that it is impossible to make a child feel loved when the parent is in Yellow or Red. They feel our stress! They feel our disapproval!
As I grew up, I realized that this was also mirrored in my perceptions of God. I had this idea that there was a Jesus who was always disappointed in me.
In other words, while I never questioned God’s love for me, I still didn’t feel that God liked me very much. Like a parent can make a child feel, I didn’t feel like I was ever good enough.
If I want my children to not just have a knowledge of love, but to feel loved, I need to delight in them no matter what the circumstances – even despite their rudeness or misbehaviour. Why? Because God loves me despite my sin. Even in my mess-ups! I don’t have to earn His love. I need to pursue my children and show an interest in them, just as God pursues a relationship with me.
"When I thought, 'My foot slips,' your steadfast love, O Lord, held me up. When the cares of my heart are many, your consolations cheer my soul." (Psalm 94:18-19)
God, our perfect Father, seeks to build connection and attachment with his children. Throughout Scripture, we see example after example of God being with us when we are hurt, sick and afraid. He is with us when we cannot sense his presence, whether we are in a state of Red, Yellow or Green.
In the life of Jesus, we see most clearly who God really is: tenderly healing the sick and injured, comforting those who are afraid, giving dignity to those who are despised, and inviting all to come into a genuine relationship with God. Jesus helps us build our attachment with God, our Father.
However, Jesus’ ministry on earth was twofold: He did not come simply to preach, or only to heal – he did both. As parents, we also need to make sure we do not neglect one or the other. We need to be with our children: comforting them in times of trouble, bandaging their scrapes, and taking them to the doctor when they need to be healed. But it is also our job to teach and to guide our children, to ensure they are learning the skills they will need in order to be successful adults. In fact, helping our children when they are hurt, sick and afraid teaches them how to have healthy relationships.
God seeks attachment with us. When Jesus finished his earthly ministry, he made us a promise that the Holy Spirit would be with us. Also named Helper and Comforter, the Holy Spirit is God’s promise to be there when we are hurt, sick or afraid.
Let us seek to build attachment with our children by teaching them, caring for them and spending time with them, both when they are doing well and when they are struggling.
Cherilyn Orr is an education consultant and adjunct professor at Vanguard College in Edmonton, and mom to seven children - both children by birth and through adoption. Her practical, simple, hands-on approach to understanding the emotional health and relational needs of children has benefitted families and educators in Canada, Uganda, Greece and England. Cherilyn and her husband, Mark, currently live in Athens, Greece, with their four youngest children.
Adapted from Signals by Cherilyn Orr. Copyright © 2022. Used by permission of Focus on the Family. All rights reserved. Represented by Tyndale House Publishers, a Division of Tyndale House Ministries.