Opinion & Debate

Published on May 6th, 2014 | by Kelly Rose Bradford


Telling children you love them – don’t do it, show it

Many mums and dads going through separation or divorce feel the need to constantly reassure their children that they are loved equally by both parents and that they are in no way to blame for the situation. I know I did, and of course, it is entirely the right thing to do. “Mummy and daddy still love you, just not each other,” was my opening gambit to seemingly every conversation for around three years. But not any more. Because generally, I don’t feel an on-going need to be constantly reassuring my son that I love him.

Yesterday, I was asked by BBC Radio Scotland’s Morning Call show to comment on recommendations published in a leaflet, Your Child’s Wellbeing: A Short Guide For Parents, which suggested mums and dads should tell their children they love them every day. I was up against the marvellous Emma Kenny, who as usual spoke much sense – just not from the same hymn sheet as me on this occasion. She agreed with the guide, and thought this message should be re-enforced daily.

The organisations behind the publication, the National Association of Head Teachers and the Family Action charity, claim that children will be better prepared for school and for learning, and have higher self-esteem if their mums and dads are vocalising those three little words every 24 hours.

What utter rubbish.

Kids shouldn’t need to be constantly told they are loved. They should FEEL it from the care and affection shown towards them in a supportive, kind, warm family environment. It shouldn’t enter a child’s mind that they are NOT loved.

Of course I have told my son I love him outside of our discussions about our family break up, but it is certainly not something I feel the need to say as I see him off to school every day, or tuck him into bed at night – after all, say anything too often and it becomes meaningless – tidy your room, don’t answer back, etc. Do children even register those words? And without an action to back them up, do they even know what they mean?

And what are we expecting back from our children when we say I love you? The same? Cute when you have an eager to please toddler, smothering you with wet kisses, but probably nothing more than embarrassed and mortified silence from teenagers, unable to communicate via anything other than grunts and social media.

My other concern is this: the daily ‘I love you’ could be used by some parents as a cop out mechanism – do very little with or for your kids, but constantly tell them you love them – bingo – fifteen years down the line you can remind them how much you told them that, despite never demonstrating it.

I can’t help but think that those who support this idea – that parents need to be told by teaching organisations to make their children feel loved – might actually be trying to reassure themselves of their parenting skills, and parroting their love every day to convince themselves they are actually doing OK in raising their kids.

And as I said on the Morning Call show yesterday, I don’t need to do that. For me, the ‘show don’t tell’ parenting technique works just fine for both of us.


About the Author

Kelly Rose Bradford

is a London-based journalist and broadcaster, writing for the Daily Mail, the Daily Express, the Sunday Telegraph, and a host of women's magazines. Her robust opinions and feisty debating skills make her in demand as a social commentator, regularly guesting on ITV's This Morning programme, and across many radio stations, including 5 Live and BBC Radio London.

One Response to Telling children you love them – don’t do it, show it

  1. Nicholle Gillian says:

    I agree with both sides and I think that there needs to be a balance. I am a single mother of a healthy happy two and a half year old monkey and I tell him I love him every day. Sometimes he says it back and sometimes he says no. That is irrelevant. However, while I agree that there is no point saying I love you if you don’t have the actions to back it up, how is a child to learn what love is if you don’t label those actions in some way? My two year old is not going to come to an epiphany that I do things for him out of sheer love and kindness all on his own! And if I don’t begin to teach him what love is, my own definition of it anyway, how will he learn to show love to others?

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