2 kids pretending to fly in a briefcase

Can You Feel the Love Tonight?

Not too long ago, I became aware of a mother on Facebook expressing concern that her 18-month-old daughter was starting to climb out of her crib at night. This was apparently uncharted territory for this mom so she decided to solicit the advice of her many online friends. As I read the responses—mostly from mothers—I was struck by a theme that seemed to emerge. One well-meaning mother captured it this way:

“We put a lock on the outside of the door, cleaned out all the toys and anything that could be a problem from the room and let [our child] climb out. It broke my heart to see their little fingers reaching under the door, then hearing them cry and [eventually] falling asleep on the floor, then picking them up in the morning with carpet face. But it really only took a few nights before they figured out the bed is more comfortable.”

My first reaction to this mother’s suggestion was to post my reply in all caps that this was child abuse! But then I had to remember that this mother is probably lacking understanding, not love. Because little children cannot do things nearly as well as adults—such as speaking—it can be easy to forget that they are people with valid feelings and desires. I believe that the mother who posted her advice loves her child unconditionally; however, I do question whether the child feels unconditionally loved.

I’m sure most parents would agree that children are not just our pets or even our property. I also believe that the vast majority of parents would say that they love their children unconditionally. Yet too often I observe parents “training” their children with “techniques” that seem to be more appropriate for animals. This is especially true for parents of young children where the focus of desired behaviors can overshadow the bigger picture. Such was the case with the little prisoner, who was literally reaching out, crying for their primary source of comfort—their parents.

The Need for Empathy

This sort of approach can be popular among parents because it requires very little effort while seeming to meet the parents’ needs. We also may end up getting the desired behavior in the short term. Unfortunately, this comes at an emotional and psychological price in the long term. Dr. John Gottman has studied in depth the enormous impact that emotional understanding can have between parent and child. In his book, Raising an Emotionally Intelligent Child, he concluded:

“In its most basic form, empathy is the ability to feel what another person is feeling. As empathetic parents, when we see our children in tears, we can imagine ourselves in their position and feel their pain. Taking children’s emotions seriously requires empathy, keen listening skills, and a willingness to see things from their perspective. It also takes a certain selflessness.”

I believe that this kind of empathy and understanding is part of the character our society needs and an important barometer for us parents as we measure any parenting advice we receive. The beginning of the answer to this mother’s problem:

“Never let a problem to be solved become more important than a person to be loved.”

For most of us, providing for our children’s emotional needs will probably be more demanding than providing for their physical needs. I offer this reminder for those who can easily forget the big picture:

Your children are what you once were. If you are humble, they will be your greatest teachers.

Horton Got it Right!

As referenced in my post Rocket Science Ain’t Parenting,” instead of asking how we can get our children to do what we want, it might be wiser to ask, “What does my child need, and how can I meet those needs?” Too many parents–including myself–demand respect from our children without asking ourselves if our discipline strategies reflect the enormous respect that we should have for them.

My hope is that the unconditional love that you have for your child will drive you to accomplish the difficult task of meeting their needs. This may require a courageous look at how our children experience our methods rather than just assuming. I know that we can see our children for who they really are and what they can become, because, after all,


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