When children truly feel loved and connected with their parents, home can be a warm, wonderful place. But in addition to showing love on an individual basis, parents can make small choices to foster a spirit of love in their homes between them and their children, between siblings, and in the family as a whole.
Encouraging Sibling Love and Solidarity
In addition to extending patience and allowing children to be individuals, parents can work to create love between siblings. From their children’s earliest ages, parents can begin to instill the principle that families are eternal and should be full of love. Homes must provide a safe haven for children, so parents should actively work to prevent siblings from name-calling, put-downs, and fighting. This is a difficult task that requires incredible constancy. When President Ezra Taft Benson’s children were young, he and his wife instigated a “no vacant chair” family motto, teaching their children that their family was eternal and each child was cherished and needed. When Mary Ellen Smoot and her husband were raising their children, they “set up family values, and one of those [was], ‘As an eternal family we build, support, and edify one another.’” Bonnie Parkin emphasized the phrase “Are you building?” with her sons, expecting them to have a positive attitude, choose wholesome activities, and act as a good influence on each other. When President Gordon B. Hinckley was growing up, his parents frequently reminded the children that “cynics do not contribute; skeptics do not create; doubters do not achieve.” Different families adopt different mottos; the important point is that parents teach their children that their family is eternal and must act accordingly.
Many families set up a system of positive reinforcement for good deeds. I know one family who keeps a nickel jar—children’s good deeds are rewarded with nickels, and when the jar is full they go out for a treat. Other families use Legos to build a home. Kind words and deeds are recognized with a Lego, and when all the Legos have built a home the family goes out for ice cream. In our family, we maintain a jar of warm fuzzies. Whenever a child pays a sibling a compliment or does something kind or selfless, I encourage that child to contribute a warm fuzzy to the jar. When all the warm fuzzies (about 100 or so) have been put in the jar, our family chooses a special outing as a reward. This is a simple way to recognize children for good deeds and enjoy fun family time. The whole family must work together to earn all the warm fuzzies, and the concept of team effort works behind the scenes to teach children that we are in this life together. If the general morale in our home seems to be low, I can observe a change when I look for any possible opportunity to recognize positive behavior with warm fuzzies.
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Parents can also take conscious steps to foster a bond between siblings. From time to time, privately tell a child how important he is in the lives of his siblings. If you have a baby who you notice smiling at her siblings, explain to each older child how much the baby loves them. If you have an older sibling whose example and companionship are important to a younger sibling, point it out on occasion and express how proud you are of your child. Occasional comments from a parent can plant seeds in a child’s mind and help shape her view of her siblings. When President Ezra Taft Benson’s children were growing up, his wife actively fostered the relationship between their two sons, who were 16 months apart. Their mother “often told each son in confidence how much his brother loved him. The practice evidently paid dividends, for as unlikely as it may seem, neither brother later remembered ever arguing with the other.” One son explained, “Mother’s attitude created within me great love for my brother and a desire to work with her to protect him.”
If a child is participating in a concert or sporting event, take the whole family along to cheer or encourage. Teach your children that being a cheerleader is part of being a sibling.
Teaching Children to Love Parents
Additionally, parents can work to foster love between children and their parents. President David O. McKay taught that the most important thing a father can do for his children is love their mother. When parents are united, children are blessed. All marriages include some level of compromise, but contentious issues should not be discussed in front of children. Do the best you can to provide your children with a united front. If an issue becomes sensitive, agree to revisit the topic later in privacy. Speak highly of your spouse as much as possible, and don’t emphasize or complain about flaws. Do the best you can to give your children an opportunity to love both of their parents regardless of shortcomings. Demonstrating loyalty by not complaining or focusing on mistakes also teaches your spouse and children that they can trust you. Everyone has flaws, and no one likes having theirs highlighted.
Allowing children to love both of their parents can become difficult in cases of divorce or other deep challenges. In many of these cases, one parent is helpless to protect children from the choices of the other parent. It becomes difficult not to vilify a current or former spouse whose choices hurt other family members. One dear single-mother friend shared that she tries to remember the importance of a father’s role in the eyes of her children. Despite his choices, she recognizes that when she demeans her former spouse in front of her children, she hurts her children and forces them to choose sides. Often the choices of an errant parent are confusing, embarrassing, or painful enough to children, and they should not be asked to also deal with the hurt feelings of their other parent. By refusing to vent her frustrations in front of her children, my friend provides her children a more secure foundation and the opportunity to forgive and love their father despite hurtful choices.
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Mothers can teach their children to love their father through her example. When President Russell M. Nelson was a young father, his wife would prepare their children for his homecoming each day by saying, “‘Okay, girls, let’s pick up all your toys so the house will be clean when Daddy comes home. And when he walks through the door, let’s all give him some hugs and kisses.’” In our home, we have trained our children to give Cameron a royal send-off in the mornings. Everyone gives him a hug and a kiss and stands to wave goodbye in the garage. In the summer, the kids often run down the street and wave from the corner. Cameron feels like a king when his little party is standing on the corner waving him off in the morning. Such family traditions foster love, happiness, and unity.
Loving Children’s Friends
Finally, parents can establish homes filled with love through a culture of accepting and welcoming their children’s friends. As children grow, friends become increasingly important. By inviting your children’s friends over, you get to know these friends and you demonstrate love and acceptance of your children. Parents might not always like their children’s friends, but loving your children and being involved in their lives is still an important choice.
President Howard W. Hunter’s wife, Claire, encouraged her sons to bring their friends home and made sure food was available for them. President Ezra Taft Benson’s wife, Flora, “preferred that the children bring their friends home to play” and worked to make home “more enticing than anywhere else.” President Harold B. Lee’s daughter recalled that their “home was always open at any time of the day or night to our friends. We came to appreciate parents who made that possible.” She concluded, “Now that I am a parent I probably realize fully for the first time that this type of involvement with friends frequently in our home could have been an inconvenience. I’m certain that many times we must have disturbed our parents when we’d sing round the piano and giggle and laugh and talk, but they never complained.”
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Sometimes having children’s friends over isn’t convenient—groups can become loud or messy. But opening your home, graciously greeting your children’s peers, and warmly getting to know them provide significant long-term benefits. You get to know your children’s friends, provide a safe environment for their socializing, and demonstrate love for your children. These social groups allow you to understand and influence your children’s world a little better. Everyone’s home situation is different. Many have small living spaces, tight grocery budgets, or other limitations. Consider your circumstances, and work within your constraints to welcome your children’s friends and get to know them better.
Love is the foundation of any happy family. As a parent, you know how much you love your children. Demonstrating your love through building a family culture of love and acceptance can fill your children with a deep sense of worth and peace.
To learn more about creating a loving family culture, check out Creating Your Forever Family by Rachel A. Sullivan, available at Deseret Book stores and deseretbook.com.